The predictable and disappointing boxing dilemma Grudge Match leaves us down for the count.
The boxing comedy Grudge Match wants to be a warm and upbeat exclamation point on the role of the elderly in today's 24-hour news cycle society, ready to thump their chests in defiance of any preconceived notions. But a movie must be good for that statement to hold water, and sadly this one isn't.
The film features the washed up boxer Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) who fought in two of the greatest boxing matches in history against Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (Robert DeNiro). But that was in 1983, and when Sharp suddenly retires, McDonnen is denied a chance to break the tie and beat his nemesis. Fast forward to the present, where Sharp has just lost his job at a steel plant, when promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) approaches him to lend his voice to a video game. What Sharp doesn't know is that his old enemy McDonnen is planning to crash the party, and their fisticuffs become top news on ESPN and YouTube. Suddenly, people want to see these two tussle a final time, and so Slate convinces them to train for a winner-take-all battle. We also learn that their disdain for one another centers around Sharps's old girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger), who slept with McDonnen years ago, producing a son (Jon Bernthal) who now wants to connect with his estranged dad. Meanwhile, Razor employs his former trainer and general pain in the butt Louis 'Lightning' Conlon (Alan Arkin) to whip him into shape. After much posturing (and pill popping) the geriatric teams meet up for a battle that only one of them can win. The question is, do we care?
Grudge Match is the kind of early April/late August film that moviegoers can consume and instantly forget. Sadly, it's been dropped into the middle of the Oscar season with results that are 'meh' at best. Director Peter Segal can't keep the energy or intensity up above a gentle boil, as Sharp comes to terms with his age and McDonnen attempts to recapture his youth. Segal's notorious for making utterly forgettable tripe like Get Smart and Anger Management, but Grudge is a different disaster all together. The one-two punch starts with him and ends with Writers Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman delivering a mediocre script that elicits only the faintest response from the audience. Perhaps the three had a good idea when the movie was conceived, but the end result is unconscious before it hits the ground. Stallone can't seem to get out of his own way here, content to play an aging boxer in yet another boxing movie, while DeNiro hasn't put gloves on since Raging Bull and it shows. But the problem goes much deeper than Stallone's choices of films. How anyone can think that he is still a marketable lead actor needs to wake up to the reality that all stars have their end. Sure, he was serviceable in Bullet to the Head and actually awake for Escape Plan, but in Grudge Match he seems tired and just struggling to stay afloat. Like Adam Sandler, it's time to place him in supporting roles or get him into vehicles that others produce, as his slurring of words is getting worse by the movie. He attains zero chemistry with Basinger, who similarly performs like she's asleep at the wheel. Neither she or Stallone feel right in their relationship, and it's clear that any movie magic in rehearsals did not make it to the final cut. DeNiro is also out of place, content to play the role of the jerk at the expense of other actors like LL Cool J, but never growing as a character who's too preoccupied with facing a boxer he cannot beat.
There are a myriad of reasons why Grudge Match fails, but that's not due to Arkin or Hart, who single-handedly keep the ship afloat. Their banter - in the middle of the waste that is this film - is the only thing we can recommend, and that's because we're trying desperately to be nice. The way the cheap race and elderly one-liners are thrown out here really defeats the whole intention of the movie, which was supposed to show that old men past their prime still can be men. Had that angle been better explored, and the script hadn't relied on the dog and pony show we do get, the film might have been slightly more memorable.
For a season supposedly filled with the best Hollywood has to offer, Grudge Match utterly disappoints. Filled with cheap race and elderly one-liners and suffering from a severe lack of chemistry, we constantly found ourselves looking at the watch wondering when the misery would finally end. Wait for this one on Netflix, because we think it won't take long to get there. Grudge Match is rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content, and language and has a runtime of 113 excruciating minutes.
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