Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Sport
Run Time: 1 hours, 53 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Jon Bernthal, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin
Directed by Peter Segal (Get Smart, The Longest Yard, 50 First Dates, Tommy Boy, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult)
To determine the worth of the new Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro comedy, Grudge Match (opening today), look no further than the film's TV trailer. In it, there are the usual positive comments ("It's a knock-out! Or, "A great time at the movies!"), but if you look closely, they are pulled directly from random Twitter handles instead of the usual "respectable" pool of film critics.
To go to such lengths to try and hype a movie is just pathetic, but at least the marketing strategy equals the worth of the film. Grudge Match bills itself as a "rivalry 30 years in the making," pitting Rocky's Sylvester Stallone against Raging Bull's Robert De Niro, but the end result is just a high-flung turd that lands with a resounding plop. It relies heavily on our remembrances of these previous films and our fondness for the actors involved. Instead it makes you yearn for a time when both actors appeared in better films (to De Niro's credit, he did recently appeared in a good film, American Hustle, although he hasn't been in a good comedy since maybe Meet the Parents in 2000).
The film begins with a brief history lesson, inserting the two fictional former boxing champs, Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro), into the flow of real-life history. Back in their hay-day, the two had an incredible 12-round fight that saw The Kid win by split decision. Shortly thereafter, there was a rematch and Razor knocked The Kid out quite early in the fight (The Kid claiming that he wasn't well-prepared for the bout). There was to be a third "grudge match," but it never happened.
Several decades later, bad blood still exists between the two, but their paths cross when they are asked to lend their likenesses to a video game featuring both of them. They get into a physical exchange on the set of the video-game shoot and the fight goes viral, igniting the rivalry and bringing it to the surface of current events. So now as old men, they schedule a third bout to finally settle the score.
How many training sequences will Stallone appear in by the end of his movie career? How many times can we see him train for the big fight? The joke here is on this once-respected actor.
The paper-thin idea for the story is rounded out with an even worse script. Would The Kid really hold such a grudge some 30 years later? And even if so, how realistic would it be that they would both get their physical before the fight at the same time from the same doctor? Any realistic believability is thrown out the window in favor of situation. I mean, wouldn't it be funny if we put Stallone and De Niro in the doctor's office together?
Stallone and De Niro are given plenty of Geratol and old man jokes, enough to make one beg to be permanently checked into a retirement home. They are surrounded by the token wise-cracking trainer (Alan Arkin) and the token wise-cracking black promoter (Kevin Hart), neither of whom are real people nor add much to the laugh-meter. Hart at least is funny in spurts. Arkin on the other hand, has now played his stale, decrepit old-man character nearly more times than Stallone has portrayed a worn-out boxer.
Everything about Grudge Match feels cheap and shallow. Stallone and De Niro seem to be good sports, poking fun at their past films and characters (Stallone is given a glass of raw eggs to drink, as he did in Rocky, and instead says, "Man, that seems like a lot of cholesterol." At a different time, he enters a room full of hanging meat (again, a la Rocky) and when he goes to punch one of them, Arkin stops him and says, "It's only lunch. You don't have to go punching everything.") But there is little creativity and less given to us to care about.
All comedies, ultimately, should be judged on how funny they are and despite what the fake Twitter handles say, Grudge Match is a tedious, painful experience made bearable only by the likeable personas of the actors, and dare I say, the pity felt for Stallone, a fallen star if there ever was one. I still root for him like I did for Rocky Balboa all those years ago, so here's hoping that 2014 brings us better Stallone material than Bullet to the Head and Grudge Match.
By the time the big fight rolls around, we know who to root for and who to root against. Because everything is boiled down to black and white. You know, just like in real life.
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