Director: Peter Segel
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Jon Bernthal, Camden Gray, Ireland Baldwin
RunTime: 1 hr 53 mins
Rating: PG 13 (Some Violence and Sexual References)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: grudgematchmovie.net
Opening Day: 9 January 2014
Synopsis: In “Grudge Match,” Stallone and De Niro play Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, two local Pittsburgh fighters whose fierce rivalry put them in the national spotlight. Each had scored a victory against the other during their heyday, but in 1983, on the eve of their decisive third match, Razor suddenly announced his retirement, refusing to explain why but effectively delivering a knock-out punch to both their careers. Thirty years later, boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr., seeing big dollar signs, makes them an offer they can’t refuse: to re-enter the ring and settle the score once and for all. But they may not have to wait that long: on their first encounter in decades, their long-festering feud erupts into an unintentionally hilarious melee that instantly goes viral. The sudden social media frenzy transforms their local grudge match into a must-see HBO event. Now, if they can just survive the training, they may actually live to fight again.
‘Grudge Match’ is a movie built squarely on the pairing between its two lead male stars, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro. Unlikely though their collaboration may sound at first, Stallone and De Niro starred in two of the greatest boxing movies of all time - “Rocky” and “Raging Bull”, and so someone must have thought it would make great sense for their fans to see Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta duke it out at last by casting the actors as onetime rivals in the boxing ring who never had a third and deciding bout.
Well that someone was quite mistaken - while their characters here hew reasonably close to their famous onscreen personalities, this is no more than a limp attempt to cash in on the enduring affection that audiences have of Stallone and De Niro’s best-known creations. Styled as a comedy with the pair playing Pittsburgh boxers Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro), it teases the idea of the much anticipated tie-breaking third fight right up till they step back inside the ring a good thirty years following Razor’s abrupt retirement from the sport.
It is almost de rigueur for such nostalgia-driven movies (and if you’ve been paying attention, there have been quite a number of late) to draw attention to the age of its stars, and this is no different. Too many gags are of a jokey old-guys comedy nature, and revolve predictably around two old and out-of-condition men getting into shape for their rematch. It is one thing that both Stallone and De Niro seem entirely game with the increasingly tedious stream of jokes that draw attention to their age, and quite another to sit through a repetitive barrage of them.
Yes, despite the fact that it is billed as a comedy, the gags just aren’t very funny. Neither Tim Kelleher (who gets story credit) nor his co-writer Rodney Rothman manage to inspire any genuine laughs; instead, you can easily tell how hard they are straining by the number of times they recycle a running joke about The Kid’s estranged son’s initials, B.J. (played by Jon Bernthal from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’). Even the usually sardonically comic Alan Arkin and the motor-mouthed Kevin Hart struggle to make the best out of tepid lines in their respective supporting roles that just plainly aren’t amusing.
Rather, the movie fares much better when it comes to orchestrating some heart-tugging moments. As it turns out, both Razor and The Kid have personal issues to work through before the climactic match. For Razor, that is seeking closure with a former lover (Kim Basinger) who had cheated on him three decades ago with none other than The Kid - hence his intense dislike for the latter. On the other hand, The Kid gets his shot at paternal redemption through BJ and his precocious young son (Camden Gray), the former of whom also rises to the occasion by agreeing to be his father’s personal trainer. De Niro gives his character real dramatic heft here, while Stallone shares a number of quietly affecting scenes with Basinger.
And yet that alone is not good enough reason for the embarrassing finale, which finally sees Stallone and De Niro showing off the toll that age has taken on their physique. No doubt the actors have both tried hard to keep their waistlines in check, but there is no hiding that both are but a shadow of their former athletic selves. Indeed, it is sad to watch them shuffle about awkwardly in the ring in their boxing trunks, going at each other sluggishly despite the best of their abilities. Not meant as any disrespect to either actor, but we’d prefer our memory of them remain where they were once Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta.
There is therefore really not much reason for ‘Grudge Match’ to exist. It doesn’t quite honour the legacy of the characters which Stallone and De Niro had etched in their fans’ minds years ago, nor for that matter, will their roles here win them any new converts. It also is, for a comedy, only sporadically amusing, and even so, can’t quite decide if it wants to be a family friendly film or an R-rated comedy. That said, it does try too to straddle between comedy and drama, but can’t quite find the right tone to be something both funny and heartfelt at the same time.
One particular post-credit sequence is probably the best this reunion has going for it - and that is right at the end when Hart’s sports promoter sits down with his next duo, Mohammed Ali (yes, we’re talking the real Mohammed Ali) and Joe Frazier. Go figure.
(A match-up between Sylvester ‘Rocky Balboa’ Stallone and Robert ‘Jake LaMotta’ De Niro certainly deserves better than this sluggish comedy with few laughs and fewer inspiration)
Review by Gabriel Chong