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Grudge Match – Movie Review

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Grudge Match – Movie Review

Rating: C+ (Above Average)

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There is something admirable about actors who decide to return to their glory days, understanding why their previous accomplishments hold so much appeal. Pairing the stars of the most acclaimed boxing films ever made seems like an interesting idea. While completely different animals in tone and ideas, Rocky and Raging Bull are certainly the shining examples for why boxing films are some of the more consistently strong entries in the sports genre. Grudge Match is not trying to be those films, but rather a more light and fluffy piece of cinema with a heavy emphasis on both comedy and melodrama. The result is a product that succeeds in one of its goals, but is weighed down by its attempts at being sentimental.

Director Peter Segal’s filmography leans heavily comedic and that is where this film’s strengths lie. Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro are given plenty of humourous barbs to launch at one another and both of them prove to have the necessary comedic chops. Stallone, in particular, displays a more articulate version of his Rocky persona and he makes Razor a likeable lead. Through his years in more action and gun-toting roles, it’s easy to forget Stallone delivered a strong and layered performance in the Rocky pictures. The only disappointment in Stallone and De Niro’s interactions is that it is surprisingly minimal. There are large portions of the film where the screenplay separates the two boxers for extended periods of time.

Alan Arkin is more than comfortable as the aging trainer, with the actor’s expected one-liners and quick-witted delivery and he shares some nice chemistry with Stallone. They even have a couple of scenes together that humorously call back to two of Rocky’s most famous moments. However, despite being set in Pennsylvania, don’t expect Stallone to run up stairs as part of his training montage. The scene-stealer in Grudge Match is Kevin Hart, who presents an energy and delivery not unlike a young Eddie Murphy. As the desperate event coordinator, he says his lines in quick succession and frequent hilarity. It’s uncertain how much of the funny lines in the screenplay were elevated by the actors, but all of them show this could have been a very decent comedy.

Where the script falters is how it shoves in the more emotional elements. Every predictable outcome happens with scene revelations coming a mile away. This is particularly evident in the subplot involving De Niro’s Billy “The Kid” training with his accidental son. The schmaltziness is poured on top with not a hint of subtlety and when stripped of their one-liners, the characters come off as even more one-dimensional. While they have done a good job at casting an actor with a slight resemblance to De Niro, Jon Bernthal displays little charisma and there’s not much chemistry between the two. De Niro actually manages to have more of a connection with the young actor playing his grandson, though he’s the typical moppet supposedly wise beyond his years. Stallone’s relationship with Kim Basinger is also barely developed and the two lack the real emotional connection we previously felt between him and Talia Shire in the Rocky series.

The decision to give Razor and Kid similar personality traits to Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta is a somewhat clever one. While Razor has a genuine heart and concerns, Kid is more alienating and rough around the edges. However, this also causes issues in how the filmmakers make it very obvious who the audience is supposed to root for, resulting in the final match having little suspense over who will win. This is not an underdog story like Rocky, but rather a tale of evenly matched foes with equal screen time and thus, it should be unpredictable who will win. That was a large reason why the climax of Rush was so tense. In addition to heading in the obvious directions, the climax further dips into another dose of overt sentimentality, but doesn’t succeed in pulling any heartstrings. What does it say when the more satisfying ending is not the conclusion of the boxing match, but rather the end credit joke scenes? One moment involving two real-life famous boxers stands as the highlight of Grudge Match.

There was definitely a lot of promise in Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay and their experience in writing for late night comedy definitely shines through. However, their attempts at drawing sentimentality come off as contrived and unneeded and the talented actors only manage to take it so far. There is certainly a novelty to seeing Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro team up to play aging boxers, but Grudge Match does not entirely fulfil the promise that idea should bring.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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