By Leah Rozen
Updated January 28, 2005 01:00 PM

The Sundance Film Festival used to be about young filmmakers breaking through, but this year it’s about middle-aged actors looking for a second wind. Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Michael Keaton and James Woods all show up in unlikely roles in movies screening in Park City, Utah.

Of the group, Brosnan and Costner come off best, both scoring laughs playing boozehounds. Brosnan is a hoot as a salty-tongued hit man in The Matador, a sharply written comedic thriller that has been picked for distribution by Miramax.

In the entertaining The Upside of Anger, an unshaven Costner is all lazy charm as a former pro baseball player who, between beers, woos an embittered neighbor (Joan Allen) after her husband abandons her. Opening nationwide March 11, Anger proves once again that baseball has been very, very good to Costner. Just think Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and, even, For Love of the Game.

Commercial prospects are more questionable for the films that brought Keaton and Woods to Sundance. Keaton stars in Game 6, playing a Broadway playwright who’s obsessing over the famous 1986 World Series game botched by the Boston Red Sox. The movie’s screenplay is by novelist Don DeLillo, a celebrated but not exactly populist writer. The film received tepid reviews and has yet to be bought for theatrical distribution.

Woods shows up in a black comedy called Pretty Persuasion, a clueless Clueless. He portrays the vulgar father of a manipulative teenage girl (Evan Rachel Wood), telling racist jokes, parading around in his underwear (not a pretty sight) and overacting with relish. Persuasion was picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions.

Another over-40 actor, Kevin Bacon came to town with wife Kyra Sedgwick for the world premiere of Loverboy, which he directed. Loping up to the stage at the 1,270-seat Eccles Auditorium, Bacon told the audience, “It’s so much harder to come to Sundance as a director than as an actor. If you’re an actor, you are sitting out there with the thought in the back of your mind that if the movie doesn’t work, well, it’s the director’s fault.”

So how’d the movie work? Only okay. A drawn-out tale of a mother’s obsessive love for her young son, Loverboy spends too long chewing on too little, though Bacon gets a sterling performance from Sedgwick.

As always, the documentaries also have people talking. Several already won distribution deals, including Inside Deep Throat, a fascinating look at the making of the controversial 1972 porn classic Deep Throat. Inside opens in theaters Feb. 11.

Other docs receiving favorable responses:

Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, which follows the career of the 1960s boxing champion who was secretly gay.

Murderball, an inspiring look at quadriplegic athletes who play rugby with a wicked competitiveness.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a muckraking look at how greedy businessmen at the powerful Texas corporation decided they didn’t have to play by the rules.

Grizzly Man, director Werner Herzog‘s look at Timothy Treadwell, an outdoorsman and writer in Alaska who was killed and devoured by the very grizzly bears he had spent years studying.