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'Grudge Match' Review: It Truly Coulda Been a Contender

By Agent Bedhead | Film | December 26, 2013 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | December 26, 2013 |

Grudge Match spawned as some brainiac’s bright idea of what it would be like if the leading men (emphasis on “men”) of Rocky and Raging Bull stepped into the ring together. The end result isn’t King Kong vs. Godzilla or even Jason vs. Freddy. More like Grumpy Old Men with a hefty dose of melodrama. It’s no coincidence that the guy who wrote Grumpy, Mark Steven Johnson, is one of the producers on this flick, for these dudes are getting up there in age. Sylvester Stallone is 67 years old. Robert De Niro is 70. Soooo they decided to rip off their shirts and leap back into the boxing ring to show all young whippersnappers who’s still king of the box office. This movie coulda been a contender. But as it stands, Grudge Match is a mere novelty act. Sly can no longer move his face, and De Niro’s lost the body. Between the two of them, they almost form one boxer punching himself in the overgrown nads.

The target audience — and I won’t get too nasty in describing these folk because I belong to the same club — should appreciate the concept of revisiting one’s glory days. After all, Sylvester Stallone is all about resurrecting the past in The Expendables franchise (fuck yeah?) and, more recently, The Escape Plan, where he teamed up with Arnie for a fan-fiction circle jerk. As for Robert De Niro, he has been hellbent upon destroying all of his Scorsese goodwill by immersing himself in a series of insufferable comedies. Sigh.

I’m (perhaps wrongly) assuming Sly was the instigator of this affair during which he and De Niro resurrect faint photocopies of their Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta characters. This exercise is truly all about these actors attempting to relive their cinematic prowess. Their new and not-at-all improved boxing monikers are Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “the Kid” McDonnen (De Niro). Back in the 1980s, Razor and the Kid were the ultimate boxing duo. Each of them scored a victory against the other. Before they could hold a tie-breaking match, Razor abruptly called off the fight and retired into blue-collar obscurity. Thirty years later, Razor needs some money to keep his old trainer (Alan Arkin) in a sweet retirement home. The Kid is doing better financially with his various business endeavors, but he wouldn’t mind a taste of his old fame. Kevin Hart plays the promoter that convinces Razor to get back in the ring for fifteen rounds, and Hart’s charisma serves him well. The results are oh-so predictable, but there’s some snickers to be had along the way (although I really could have done without the rape- and race-related jokes).

Here’s the thing: Grudge Match could have dealt a great deal of enjoyment while poking fun at its conventions. There are moments of hilarity, such as when Razor obligingly guzzles Rocky’s raw eggs. Then there are the parts that didn’t need to happen — like Razor’s amazing proctology exam (*eye roll*) and the Kid giggling about blow jobs.

The main problem with this movie isn’t that Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta have been pulled out of deep freeze. Instead, the overriding weakness is that Grudge Match can’t decide whether to function as comedy or drama. Neither element is strong enough to stand on its own in this tale, and the movie isn’t cohesive enough to qualify as dramedy. The jokes and the personal shit of the characters don’t gel together. The laughs feel a bit bizarre when the director, Peter Segal, is trying to play the story straight. Segal pushes weird subplots like the Kid’s actual (estranged) kid showing up out of the blue; likewise, Kim Basinger stars as Sally, the vixen who broke Razor’s heart back in the day (Ireland Baldwin plays young Sally, which probably caused Alec’s head to explode). These diversions do nothing to further a movie that lasts nearly two hours. We all just want to see the fight, you know? We want to know who wins this motherfucker. Anyone who wants to see this movie is going in for the physical aspect, not any weak attempt at characterization a shoe-horned story.

Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.