“That’s okay. I’m 800 years old and I say what I want,” states trainer Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon (Alan Arkin) in the new boxing comedy Grudge Match, and that philosophy– we’re older so we can do what we want–seems to extend to this entire motion picture. The whole story here feels like a set-up of boxing grandiosity because it combines Robert De Niro, who won an Oscar for acting in Raging Bull, with Sylvester Stallone, who famously played— and was nominated for an Oscar—for playing Rocky Balboa in Rocky. So the whole concept of this film seems to be that Raging Bull meets Rocky with a dose of comedy. Everyone will love it, right?
But instead of aiming high, screenwriters Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman seem to settle with a mediocre story that milks the two main actors as much as it can with a story as subtle as a punch to the stomach. Thirty years after a highly-anticipated third match between heavy-weight champs Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) that never happened, the two now-old men have long since gone their own ways. Sharp backed out of the famous match years earlier and McDonnen still holds a grudge against the man for doing so.Through his determination, boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) has somehow finally convinced Sharp to go through with a rematch so the story is set up to show the two older men battling it out in the inevitable climax.
Of course, McDonnen knows why Sharp backed out of the original match but never mentions it until the story forces him to. Of course, it was about a girl who— of course— is played by Kim Basinger. Basinger, Stallone, and De Niro all deserve better than this but their careers have faltered in recent years so this is what they have unfortunately settled for.
Ironically, the anticipation in the plot serves as a mirror image of the film’s marketing. Like the bout in the ring (two great boxers facing off), the whole movie is set up to appeal to those who love Stallone and De Niro and are excited to see them in the ring together. But as the plot unfolds, it’s revealed that few people are still excited about a fight that is thirty years past its prime (although the television sports reporters still talk about it excitedly). Maybe the actors should have read the script and realized that few people would be excited about this cinematic bout as well.
Of course, Slate Jr. is the undeserved master of viral promotions and the fight receives tons of publicity whenever the two main characters get together and battle it out. One fight— which sadly shows Stallone and De Niro battling it out wearing green motion capture suits— gets on the internet and soon, thousands (really?) are clamoring to watch the two seniors battling it out.
The comedy here is derived from crass and obnoxious jokes that wouldn’t work in an adult diaper commercial, let alone a full-length motion picture starring one of the greatest actors of his generation. There’s a rape joke and several sexually-explicit ones along with a running gag about horse urine. It’s a sad commentary that this film is arriving on theaters Christmas Day. It’s also sad that actors like Stallone, De Niro and Basinger are relegated to this type of material. So, it should be noted, is Arkin who appears as Stallone’s wheelchair-riding trainer.
It’s hard to watch a movie like Grudge Match, not because it’s unfunny (it does include a laugh or two) or because the script is mediocre. It’s hard to watch this because we as an audience know that the actors involved are capable of so much more than this trite script. The only people who should have grudges here are the actors, who somehow or another, were convinced along the way that this movie could actually be good.
My review: D