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Review: Grudge Match – Fighting fossils win by split decision

Posted by on December 25, 2013 – 7:53 am

Grudge MatchWho would win in a fight between Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa and Robert De Niro’s Jake La Motta (from Raging Bull)? I’m not sure if this is one of film fandom’s greatest unanswered questions or not, but Grudge Match, which plays off of the two actors’ cinematic history, is an interesting concept and one that, despite some of its lame goofiness, is a fun nostalgic movie.

Stallone and De Niro take some entertaining jabs at their former iconic movie characters and this film is as much a spoof as it is homage to their roles as Rocky and La Motta. There are a lot of laughs to be had, but plenty of eye-rolling moments of foolishness as well. The first fifteen-minutes of this movie are walkout bad – but hang in there.

Thirty-years ago, Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) were bitter boxing opponents, with each having won a championship bout against the other. But when Razor retires after beating McDonnen, both men spend the next three decades wondering who would have one in another rematch.

There’s also a dramatic subplot about Razor’s former girlfriend (Kim Basinger) having an affair and a child with McDonnen, which prompted Razor’s early retirement. He now works as a laborer in a Pittsburgh steel mill, while McDonnen runs a successful car lot and bar, where he gets on stage and does monologues about his glory days for bored patrons.

Grudge MatchThe son of the fighters’ former promoter, Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), brings the two rivals together for a video game motion-capture session that goes awry, and when the video of the two men fighting in their green suits goes viral, Dante convinces the former fighters to enter the ring one more time for a match he calls “Grudgment Day.”

Razor get his old trainer, Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon (Alan Arkin), to help him prepare for the fight, while McDonnen talks his newfound son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal), into training him for the bout. Yes, you can count on “B.J.” jokes aplenty, which is one of this movie’s many problems. Low brow humor is unnecessarily littered throughout this film, especially by Arkin’s unappealing geriatric character.

Although Grudge Match is good for a lot of laughs (mercifully not all of the humor is schoolyard in nature), there are some honest and thoughtful moments that hint at the excellent film this movie could have been if it had taken itself more serious. Bernthal in particular does a very good job as McDonnen’s adult son and it’s great to see this former Walking Dead star show his acting chops up against the likes of De Niro.

Grudge MatchDespite the film’s crappy Photoshopped movie posters, Stallone and De Niro are in amazing physical shape for 67 and 70 year-old men, respectively; and the actors manage to pull off a climatic fight sequence that is believable, exciting and surprising. That said I can still do without seeing them with their shirts off.

Grudge Match is directed by Peter Segal, whose previous work includes comedies like Get Smart, Tommy Boy and several Adam Sandler vehicles. The film was written by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, whose resumes include mostly television comedies. It’s unfortunate that they needlessly push the PG-13 rating in this movie, and it suffers for the lack of discipline.

There are so many ways one can knock this film, and considering the acting talent involved (yes, including Stallone) it’s a shame that the story wasn’t treated in a more earnest manner. Nevertheless, Grudge Match wins a split decision for its punch-drunk fun. Be sure to stay as the credits roll for a couple of bonus scenes with Kevin Hart. Grade: 6.5/10

Photos © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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