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New Release Review - Grudge Match

A pair of elderly retired boxers are coaxed back into the ring to settle an old score.

Directed by: Peter Segal
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Jon Bernthal


In 1982, two historic boxing matches were fought between Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Billy "Kid" McDonnen, both men claiming a victory each. A tie-breaking third match was scheduled but before the heavily anticipated fight could go ahead, Razor decided to retire from the sport. 30 years later the two men meet while working on motion capture for a video game and once again come to blows. When the footage of their impromptu brawl hits the web, Razor and Kid are suddenly big news for the first time in three decades, prompting second rate promoter Dante (Hart) to convince the two rivals to sign on for a long delayed third fight.
A few years ago a laughable story made the rounds concerning the plans of some rich Arab sheik or Russian oligarch to purchase the rights to Rocky and Raging Bull. The madcap idea was to have both films' protagonists face off in a Freddy Vs Jason style smackdown. The plan, of course, was always a non-starter, simply because Jake LaMotta was a real person and so couldn't very well take to the ring to fight a creation of pop culture. It did, however, get some Hollywood minds overworking and so Stallone and De Niro were convinced to come together for Grudge Match.
The movie requires us to swallow two ridiculous notions; firstly that the 70 year old De Niro would stand any chance against Stallone, an actor who's been working out on a daily basis for the last 40 years and is still in better shape than most men half his age. The second, and equally ludicrous, idea is that the two biggest stars of the eighties American boxing scene could have been a couple of white guys.
The marketing for Grudge Match plays up the comic idea of its premise but the film itself is far from the dumb comedy you'd expect. The screenplay, from no less than three writers, suffers from a severe case of schizophrenia. Whenever Stallone and De Niro are onscreen together it enters the realm of broad comedy but most of the film is a melancholy tale of regret and the search for redemption. This would be fine if the script was up to scratch but Grudge Match is as lazily written as its poster is badly photo-shopped. The film only really serves to remind you how good Rocky Balboa, which covered similar themes, was and makes you wonder what Stallone could have done had he written this.
It's a sign of how far De Niro's career has sunk that it's Stallone you feel sorry for in this case. We've become numb at this point to De Niro's terrible project choices but his co-star has revitalized himself over the last decade, not just as a movie star but in his role as writer-director, showing us how post-modernism should be done with Rocky Balboa, Rambo and Homefront, one of the surprises of last year.
It's also interesting that Stallone is cast here as the quiet, introspective half of the central pair while De Niro is handed the role of the cocky loudmouth. Had the roles been reversed I suspect the film would have been a degree more interesting. It would be nice to see Stallone have fun with a showy role and we'd be spared yet another movie in which De Niro struggles uncomfortably to portray an extroverted persona.
Thanks to its insistence on taking itself far too seriously, Grudge Match is a face-off you'll struggle to make it through 12 rounds of. And with that bad boxing metaphor it's time for me to throw in the towel on this review. Basinger is still a knockout by the way. Boom!
3/10


Eric Hillis

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