Grudge Match (2013) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

The pairing of DeNiro and Stallone, both of whom have portrayed iconic boxers, in a comedy that plays off their popular screen personas should be a knockout, it’s a bomb. For many years I have been lenient towards Stallone flicks, I love the guy’s movies. Having grown up during the Stallone-Schwarzenegger era of the 1980s, I recall some of my earliest theater-going memories to the action epics they churned out in the decade of excess. As the years wore on and Stallone started appearing in lesser films, I felt a need to almost defend my ongoing fanaticism towards the man responsible for Rocky and Rambo. Just this year I gave favorable reviews to both Bullet to the Head and Escape Plan. However, this time out I cannot in any fashion recommend this utterly wretched, nearly laugh-less so-called comedy, that ranks as the worst in either man’s career.

Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp’s (Sylvester Stallone) two fights against one another garnered the Pittsburgh fighters national attention for the bitter rivalry and outrageous animosity between them. Each man having scored a win, their decisive rubber match was set for June 1983, until Razor pulled out of the bout and publicly announced his retirement. In the intervening years the feud between the ex-pugilists still burns, McDonnen still smarting over his KO loss due to lack of proper preparation, feels he never got the chance to prove Sharp’s win was a fluke. Razor on the other hand harbors a deep resentment towards “The Kid” for a personal line that was crossed outside the ring.

Three decades have since passed and these days Sharp works in a factory and quietly dismisses any who recognize the former slugger. On the other hand, McDonnen has gone the celebrity route, opening up a restaurant/bar that plays to the fighter’s past success and ego. His nightly show of stale one-liners and a ventriloquist act are reminiscent of the sight of a bloated DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in the declining years of the man’s life at the end of Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The son of a former promoter, played by the hard-working Kevin Hart (the only comedian cast in a comedy?!), arranges for Razor and Kid’s likeness to be used in a modern video game. During the course of the recording session the former rivals get into an altercation that is caught on camera, the video goes viral and suddenly there is big-time interest in the long-awaited third fight.

Alan Arkin plays the Burgess Merdith role as Stallone’s trainer, Arkin is given a few good lines and delivers but like the rest of the film he’s listless. An unconvincing love triangle is set-up with Basinger’s character, a former flame of both Razor and Kid, the latter having fathered her now adult son. As the fight draws closer, the public’s interest is heightened further by a string of failed publicity stunts that are the film’s most clever moments. HBO’s real-life boxing analysts are featured ringside for the big fight at the conclusion of the movie, in an attempt to add some levity to the preposterous story. All their presence does is remind one of the similar format employed in the vastly superior final installment Rocky Balboa.

Now reader, if you were to go back and scan the plot description I have outlined in the previous paragraphs, does any of that sound funny? I thought not. As painful for me to say as it maybe, Grudge Match is a missed opportunity for an intelligent and witty satire of boxing, and arguably as dreadful as Rinestone or Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. One of the years’ absolute worst films.

Directed by Peter Segal
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart

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