Beef, it’s what’s for dinner. It’s a cheesy Madison Avenue come-on he may spend the rest of his life ruing, but in “The Hero” Sam Elliott owns it; even makes fun of it by starting Brett Haley’s ode to an aging Western star by doing a similar voiceover for Lone Star Barbecue Sauce, aka “the perfect partner for your chicken.” It’s a humorous tip that Elliott is game to poke fun at his rugged-man persona, albeit in the confines of a cliched drama about an actor facing issues of loneliness, mortality and a need to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

The story, though, is secondary to being in the presence of Elliott, the perfect partner for your entertainment. All you need do is catch that irresistible twinkle in his eye and you’re immediately drawn into the drug-fueled atmosphere of his washed-up Western star Lee Hayden. It should come as no surprise that the role fits Elliott like a 10-gallon hat, and at times, it’s hard to separate the actor from the role, particularly in his scenes with real-life wife, Katharine Ross, who I’m happy to report is still a knockout as Lee’s ex-spouse, Valerie. Then, there’s that BBQ ad we see Lee working on, which instantly reminds of his beefy-voiced voiceovers for the cattle industry.

That voice is magic, filled with wisdom and experience, a craggy baritone that says gravitas with every clearly enunciated syllable. You could listen to him all day — and want to, but in a less pedestrian environment than what Haley provides. Coming off his marvelous resuscitation of Blythe Danner’s career in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” it’s reasonable to expect him to provide Elliott, who had a bit role in that fine film, a similar showcase. But all we get is yet another septuagenarian fighting — and losing — a battle with Father Time. Accordingly, it’s flush with all the expected scenes: The cancer diagnosis; the young, raven-haired hottie (Laura Prepon) who will restore his will to live; and the need to make amends with a whiney daughter (a slumming Krysten Ritter) who resents him because he was never home at the peak of his now-kaput career.

Those scenes write themselves — and not very well, either. But Elliott keeps you engaged just the same, finding substance where none exists. It’s dour and maudlin, which makes it all the more welcome to see Elliott’s amusing scenes with the incomparable Nick Offerman as Lee’s former TV co-star turned dedicated drug dealer, Jeremy. Watching them get stoned while listening to reggae and watching Buster Keaton movies is pure delight. And a movie with just them reliving the good ole days while under the influence would have been preferable to Lee’s tired May-December romance with Prepon’s Charlotte, who he meets during one of Jeremy’s drug deals.

She predictably reignites Lee’s pilot light, giving him a reason to stop feeling sorry for himself and fight his pancreatic cancer like it’s just another villain in a black hat. They even attend the kind of cut-rate awards dinner Lee would never imagine himself participating in. And when he gives his zany, drug-influenced acceptance speech, it goes viral, catching the attention of producers who’d given him up for dead. Great for Lee, but not for Haley. If the speech is really funny enough to go viral, it stands to reason we’d find it funny, too. But you don’t. It’s merely annoying and not very clever.

Still, it’s better than a fizzle-out ending, capped by Prepon reading aloud Edna St. Vincent Millay’s funereal “Dirge without Music” to her reeling lover. The words are beautiful, but the scene is flatter than a Palm Springs vista. And Lee’s inevitable make-nice with his daughter is even lazier. Yet, Elliott refuses to sink to the level of the material, soldiering on with his head held high as he masculinity saunters off into the sunset.

“The Hero”
Cast includes Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman and Krysten Ritter.
(R for drug use, language and some sensuality.)
Grade: B-