Christmas time. A time to spend with family, fight off mall crowds, and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for the umpteenth time. However, it’s also when movie studios dump a bunch of movies on the public. Warner Bros’ helping is Grudge Match, basically Rocky vs Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta in the retirement home. My question is how did it take 30 yrs to get Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone together? Let alone, how did I walk out… liking it?
Stallone and De Niro are Hollywood majesty, their legacies are immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they are also caught in the bargain bin at your local Wal-Mart. I’m talking to you, Daylight and Mad Dog and Glory and in the trash bin across from Best Buy. Stop or My Mom Will Shoot and Little Fockers come to mind. Grudge Match is good enough to recommend a Redbox rental.
Let’s make it clear. You can look at it two ways. One, you can dismiss it like critics will as a lame or limp comedy or you can turn your brain off and enjoy Rocky Balboa battle Jake La Motta for the first and final time. I chose the latter.
Set in Pittsburgh, PA, De Niro and Stallone were rivals back in their heydays as Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, but one of them called it quits after their second match and is now retired and working in a steel mill while the other had a successful career and is living it up. Along comes an boxing promoter’s son, Dante Slate Jr. Looking for his big break and bringing the comic timing is Kevin Hart, who pulls off one-liners effortlessly, but keeps himself in control enough to enjoy. So, no Chris Tucker annoyance from Rush Hour 3. He begs the two retirees to do a video game together, but after their bad blood rivalry ends up a social media extravaganza, he coaxes them into the ultimate rematch. Grudge Match (cue Rocky theme). Whoops, wrong movie.
(shudders) Haunts me.
De Niro and Stallone when they are together work well enough as rivals and they really make themselves look boxing-ready at the end of the film. I was impressed. Especially when Stallone is 67, and De Niro is 70. Director Peter Segal gets these two together in the ring and through some camera trickery and great makeup, this climatic battle was shockingly exciting and a lot of fun to witness. Segal is not afraid to satirize the sports media with Jim Lampley and ESPN’s Sportscenter. I also got to give props to Jon Bernthal as his son, B.J. (Oh, that poor kid), an upcoming actor bringing some dramatic punch with De Niro’s character. However, it’s the only drama that works.
That’s… just… AWESOME!
The script by Tim Kelleher is a mixed bag of witty zingers but predictable and outlandish drama. Especially the “love triangle” between McDonnen, Sharp, and Adrian. Wrong movie, again. Actually, the woman is Sally, a single mother with the personality of a rock. Kim Basinger was perfect for it. I couldn’t believe it; it was derailing the movie at times. It didn’t help that Stallone and Basinger had the same chemistry as Stallone had with Sharon Stone in The Specialist. None. Lumbering through the awkwardness (especially an innocent walk in the park) was just troubling for me; trust me, this was not Something’s Gotta Give. You’ll also roll your eyes when you find out how this triangle was formed.
Yeah, you’re definitely not Adrian or Vickie La Motta
Why, why does Hollywood continue to under-use Alan Arkin? Playing Mickey, damn. I mean Louis “Lightning” Conlon, Sharp’s trainer who just knows how to deliver a one liner with grumpy monotone perfection. However, we never get a backstory and when we do, it’s oozing with Hollywood hokum. Plus, I found myself spotting every sports movie cliché in the book. From the inspiring monologues, to the woman who inspires, the jogging across town, to the training montages. Oh, we get about four of each. I do forgive them, because they’re my favorite kind of cliché in Tinseltown.
Thank god, they didn’t film it in Philly. Only Rocky reference missing.
Grudge Match is basically Grumpy Old Men in the ring. It’s a pleasure to watch these two legends battle it out in the ring one last time, and enjoy their love/hate rivalry. Hart and Arkin are great supporting characters, delivering one-liners out like a Pez Dispenser. It all outweighs the flaws and sketchy drama packed in the 114-minute running time. However, it’s still good solid entertainment. It won’t be their best, but “It’s the best we got.” Stallone mutters in the film. Well said, Sly.
Take a Drink: every time you see someone whip out a camera phone
Take a Drink: when a Rocky reference shows up
Down a 32 oz. Mug: when Kim Basinger shows up and almost ruins the film
Do a Bodyshot: every time you witness a bikini-clad girl holding a number card in the ring