Raging Bull versus Rocky – but this is no knock out
Towards the end of Peter Segal’s comedy drama about two retired boxing adversaries who are lured back into the ring, a bruised Sylvester Stallone turns to Robert De Niro and growls, “Want to do this again?”.
With rivulets of sweat and blood trickling into his swollen eyes, De Niro wearily responds, “Definitely not”.
That’s exactly how we feel about Grudge Match - relieved that this sorry mess has reached its final round, and secretly hopeful that someone might throw in the towel to put both the actors and us out of our misery. Regrettably, once the boxing ends and the talking begins, Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s script punches well below its weight and Oscar winners Alan Arkin and Kim Basinger are squandered in thankless supporting roles.
The puerility of the humour is exemplified by Kelleher and Rothman’s decision to name one pivotal character after a sexual act in order to contrive a limp running gag about butterscotch jellybeans.
In their 1980s heyday, Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) were fierce rivals.
Each man recorded one decisive victory over the other but before the eagerly anticipated rematch, Razor announced his retirement.
Thirty years later, wise-cracking boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr (Kevin Hart) hires the two men to provide motion-capture footage for a videogame and in the green screen studio, Sharp and McDonnen trade blows.
Video footage of the skirmish goes viral, sparking interest in a rematch, which Slate crudely christens Grudgement Day.
McDonnen is excited.
“I see the camera adds 10 pounds,” he grins, looking at video footage of the altercation. “So how do you explain the other 20?” retorts Sharp.
Eventually, the two old-timers agree to head back into the ring, despite misgivings from old flame Sally (Kim Basinger).
Razor turns to former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin) to get him into physical shape while McDonnen draws strength from his long-lost biological son, BJ (Jon Bernthal), and precocious grandson Trey (Camden Gray).
Grudge Match puffs and wheezes through the motions, stoking animosity between the leads en route to a climatic final showdown that is physically gruelling, yet emotionally underpowered.
Stallone looks like he could floor De Niro with a single blow but we suspend disbelief as the script flings various obstacles in the fighters’ paths and engineers sappy reconciliations.
Basinger’s on-screen chemistry with Stallone is completely inert and potty-mouthed punchlines hit the canvas with a dull thud.
Comedy/Drama/Action/Romance. Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Jon Bernthal, Camden Gray, LL Cool J. Director: Peter Segal.