2013, PG-13, 113 mins.
2013, PG-13, 113 mins.
Robert De Niro as Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen / Sylvester Stallone as Henry 'Razor' Sharp / Alan Arkin as Lightning / Jon Bernthal as B.J. / Kevin Hart as Dante Slate, Jr. / Kim Basinger as Sally Rose / Judd Lormand as Car Salesman / Nicole Andrews as Carla / Han Soto as Kenji
Directed by Peter Segal / Written by Tim Kelleher, Doug Ellin, and Rodney Rothman
GRUDGE MATCH is not so much a fully realized film as it is a one-joke gimmick without any discernible punch line.
It also shamelessly takes advantage of our collective memories of
two of the greatest pugilist characters in motion picture history (and the
stars that played them) and decides to use that as a rather flimsy
foundation for a comedy. I
kind of loathe it when a film takes iconic actors of the silver screen and
marginalizes their past legendary roles instead of truly
holding them up to proper levels of hero worship. The end result of GRUDGE MATCH is that we feel embarrassment
for these actors, and the fact that their legacy is used as a cheap
marketing hook to lure people into cinemas is kind of sad.
Of course, I’m talking about stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, who were in, yes, two of the greatest boxing films of all-time in ROCKY and RAGING BULL, playing two of the most memorable boxing characters of all-time in Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta respectively (granted, the latter was a reality-based figure). The premise of GRUDGE MATCH is somewhat intriguing on paper: Have Stallone and De Niro play approaching-old-age home retired fighters that find themselves inevitably back in the squared circle for one last winner-take-all tussle. The poster of these two stars alone in boxing garb is enough to sell this film, but that’s the issue: Nothing that GRUDGE MATCH does makes for a memorable filmgoing experience beyond the initial promise of seeing the Raging Bull go toe-to-toe with the Italian Stallion. This is a P.W.P. film, or one containing a premise without a payoff. That, and really, what’s fundamentally funny, per se, about seeing a 70-year-old De Niro and a 67-year-old Stallone fight one another? In reality, you’d fear for their lives more than you would be cheering them on…or laughing at their expense.
plays Henry “Razor” Sharp, a fighter from Philadelphia…er…make
that Pittsburgh…that decided to retire way back in 1983 after a series
of brutal matches with his arch nemesis, Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De
Niro). Their first two bouts
ended with split results, and their third one would have been a battle for
the ages, but Henry decided to call it quits – for secretive reasons –
just before the match became a reality, which left Billy feeling angrily let
down. Flashforward 30 years
and we are introduced to a down-on-his luck promoter, Dante Slate Jr.
(Kevin Hart, injecting what laughs he can into the middling material
he’s given), who decides that interest is exceedingly high to see these
two old farts go at it again (especially after a heated argument between
the two ex-fighters went viral online and became an overnight sensation).
course, Billy is elated at the prospects of having the opportunity to
fight in a contest that he thought he was robbed of all those years ago,
but Henry is far more reluctant. Alas,
being financially strapped, Henry begrudgingly decides to partake,
realizing that his cut of the gate will allow him to come out of economic
ruin. With the card date set,
both men – not in the finest shape for a PPV slugfest – decide to whip
themselves back into fighting form. Henry
springs his old trainer, Lightning (Alan Arkin) from his retirement home
to assist him, whereas Billy finds an unexpected source of tutelage in the
form of his long estranged son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal).
Thrown into the mix and complicating everyone’s lives is the
appearance of Sally (Kim Basinger), who was once Henry’s girlfriend who
later slept with Billy, and became pregnant with B.J..
there is one thing that GRUDGE MATCH does well it’s that it takes an
unexpected position of not going out of its way to present a black and
white hero and villain in the story for us to root for and hate.
Both Henry and Billy are likeable, but deeply flawed chaps that
have made mistakes, which leaves us questioning what side to take during
the climatic big fight, staged relatively well by directed Peter
Segal (GET SMART). Even
though Stallone and De Niro look relatively good for their ages (the sight
of De Niro doing multiple pull-ups is kind of amazing in the training
montages), they still nonetheless look suitable grizzled and withered to
plausibly inhabit the roles of well-past-their-prime fighters.
The film also does manage to have some nice, sly callbacks to the
training sequences of the first ROCKY film, although it appears that Henry
has more problems drinking a dozen raw eggs than the thirtysomething Rocky
the real problem with the film is the script, which awkwardly tiptoes between many unfunny pratfalls and even
more insipid melodrama, the latter that is purely of the daytime
soap opera level of interest. The
central love triangle in the film between Henry, Billy, and Sally exists
more as a plot device to drive the narrative forward, which is not helped
by the fact that Stallone and Basinger don’t have a scintilla of
chemistry on screen together (Basinger, at 60, is still gorgeous,
though). Bernthal gives
arguably the most grounded and interesting performance in the film as a
man battling between his job to train his father and coming to grips with
their estrangement, but the manner the screenplay connects the dots
between him, Billy, Henry, and Rose seems awfully convenient and
telegraphed…perhaps too much for its own good.
and the actual promise of comedy here is never built upon at any real
moment in the film. Alan
Arkin is a hoot as his trash talking trainer (he and Kevin Hart have some
colorfully verbal sparring matches of their own), but the real source of
laughs – De Niro and Stallone – never materializes.
If anything, the pair seems more physically uneasy in most of their
scenes, which has the counterintuitive effect of suffocating the comedy of
the moments their share. Watching would-be hilarious scenes – like the pair terribly
singing a duet of the National Anthem or skydiving out of a plane to a
Target store parking lot, all for promotional purposes – is more cringe
inducing than amusing. There’s
also not one tired and obligatory old man joke at the expense of the
characters’ ages that isn't utilized here, and mostly to
With lame sitcom worthy gags and scattershot and unconvincing drama (not to mention inept segues between both), I'm not really left with much to recommend in GRUDGE MATCH. In the end, it’s kind of pathetically sad – and ironic – to witness Stallone and De Niro sell themselves out as actors (much like their on-screen counterparts do) for what was, no doubt, a mighty fine payday…but at what ultimate cost? I don’t honestly think that these two stars – whom I’ve admired for a lifetime – were deliberately trying to spit on the indelible legacy of films like RAGING BULL and ROCKY. I really don’t. But after seeing GRUDGE MATCH, they're not exactly celebrating our cherished memories of those sports classics either.