Genre: Comedy, Sport
Directed by: Peter Segal
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin
Back in the early days, just a struggling actor on the make, Robert De Niro must surely have struck a deal. He could be one of the finest actors ever to grace the silver screen if only he’d sign over his soul for collection at a later date. And so he was, throwing himself into roles with an intensity no mere mortal could manage. But a deal’s a deal, and one day he was going to have to pay. It appears the devil is a low rent movie producer because his price is a string of awful films. Grudge Match is the latest, a high concept idea as witless as its protagonists after they’ve knocked seven bells out of each other in the ring.
This is classic high concept in the sense that no one bothered to think further than the opening premise. Two old boxers who fought twice and never held the decider come out of retirement to settle the festering sore. Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky, or Henry “Razor” Sharp as he’s known here. His nemesis is the rude and sleazy Jake LaMotta a.k.a. Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro). Tied one a piece, Razor unexpectedly walked clean out of boxing all those years ago depriving the sporting world of a third bout.
Brought back together to film animations for a computer game, they come to blows in the studio. When a video of the fight becomes an internet sensation, cut-price promoter Dante Slate, Jr (Kevin Hart) convinces them to return to the ring for real. Because that couldn’t pad out a film, Razor gets a love interest in Sally (Kim Basinger) and a sick former trainer Lightning (Alan Arkin) and Kid gets a son (Jon Bernthal) to bond with.
Ostensibly, this is a comedy. There are even moments of sporadic humour. But be under no illusions; these are only moments. The jokes settle around the level of a man named B.J. and a prostate examination. There are also height, race and age gags. While the screenplay moves through the categories, it forgets to actually include decent material. Perhaps they’d blown all the money on the multiple academy award winning cast.
One thing’s for sure, it was not spent on production. It often has the horrible washed out effect of an up close and personal documentary. At times, even that can’t be maintained with shots that look like someone had brought out a camera phone. The final fight is a fitting climax to the soggy mess that’s gone before. An unenergetic scrap sees two old men smash each other in the face for what seems like half their lives. Neither man makes any effort to block. They just get patiently pummelled, waiting their turn to hit back. It’s a dispiriting cross between an OAP fitness class and school drama production with added jokes about male breasts.
Of course, it’s one thing gathering a good cast and it’s another getting any use out of them. Performances here range from average to poor. Bernthal and Basinger are only one dimensional plot points inserted to pad out the running time. They offer Kid and Razor the chance to reconnect with their human sides in the most perfunctory of fashions. De Niro just about gets away with it, his sly charm shining through a collection of staid antics, but Stallone is not the man for romance. His slurred endearments and trademark look of incomprehension do not stir up deep emotions. Even Arkin and Hart, probably the stand out pair, are only playing roles they’ve done significantly better many times before.
Grudge Match is like a misplaced bet. The horse seemed like a winner, but it’s soon labouring near the back leaving nothing to do except wait for it to stagger over the line. It has the odd decent moment, and De Niro perversely seems to be enjoying himself, but this is nothing more than a cinematic curio at best.