Grudge Match is a high-concept comedy that has everything to do with the casting. It’s a film that asks What if…? In this case it’s what if Rocky and Jake La Motta met for one last bout?
Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro are aging ex-boxers who need to settle a grudge that has lingered for thirty years. Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnon (De Niro) and Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) are two Pittsburgh fighters now living very different lives to the ones they lead during their heyday. The night before their big match, Razor retired for reasons we’ll discover throughout the film. By walking away he essentially destroyed not only his career but that of The Kid as well. Now, Razor works back at the mill and The Kid is a reasonably successful used car sales manager who does a little nightclub shtick with a ventriloquist doll at a place called Knocked Out.
When the idea of completing something that was never started is presented to the old rivals, Razor is less than enthusiastic, despite the money offered. “Who cares about that?” he asks, but debt and a layoff at the mill changes his mind.
The Kid, on the other hand, is interested, though to his credit, he’s quick to acknowledge why Razor walked away all those years ago. De Niro’s character spent just one night with Razor’s girlfriend, resulting with a pregnancy. “A momentary lapse of judgment,” he states.
But money and the need to settle something is too great, and the two aging enemies agree. “If one of you gets knocked down,” asks a reporter at a press conference announcing the bout, “Is it safe to say you can’t get up?”
What follows is a series of comical workouts – De Niro’s character can’t complete more than one lift before losing breath – and the problems that accompany the opening of old wounds, meeting up with old girlfriends (Kim Basinger), and discovering a family you never knew you had.
Grudge Match is an amiable enough comedy with gentle laughs throughout rather than big ones. The film will fade from memory moments after leaving the theater, but there’s no denying the fun in seeing Stallone and De Niro together; they worked together before in 1997’s Cop Land, but there the circumstances and certainly the style were different. Here it’s all for fun. When De Niro dives into a stack of pancakes for breakfast, his oversized ringside advisor asks, “What are training for, a pie eating contest?”
There is also a slew of running jokes of age and two guys who don’t understand the social network or the equipment that goes with it. When their enthusiastic promoter (comedian Kevin Hart) talks of a video going viral, the fighters are clueless. Stallone doesn’t own a TV, and his equally clueless aging father (Alan Arkin) describes an i-Pad as “One of those flat things you push around with your finger.”
Only the welcoming presence of Kim Basinger’s sober and sensible character, Sally Rose, seems to have a real perspective on what’s happening. “No matter how hard you guys work,” she tells Stallone, “It won’t be your best.”
As for the fight, you won’t be getting either a reworking of Rocky or The Raging Bull but the film does give us a solid outcome with a declared winner rather than one of those annoying, ambiguous endings where things remain undecided because one big star could not be seen losing to the other. Though this should be the last time we see either actor in the ring again, or, more importantly, with their tops off.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)