Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
Thirty years ago Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) were two boxers at the top of their game and the fiercest of rivals with one win between them against each other. On the eve of the third and apparently deciding match, Billy decides to retire and to this day it has never been decided who is the better of the two. The two of them have never spoken for the last 30 years, but after a chance meeting and the subsequent fisticuffs when filming footage for a video game, their brawl is captured online and viewed by millions. With the hype generated from this video, opportunistic and currently broke promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart) manages to eventually persuade the two of them to take part in a long awaited rematch. Mainly motivated by their mutual hatred, the two of them prepare as best they can considering their advanced years, and thanks to people from their past, learn some long awaited life lessons too.
I know what everyone is thinking, as I thought it too! The extremely cynical casting of this film makes for a marketers dream (not to mention not having to make any effort at all for ‘archive’ footage in the film), but these two pensioners are just going to embarrass themselves in a film made solely for money. Well, there is no denying this is partly the case as apparently both Bob and Sly were reluctant to do Grudge Match for obvious reasons but the other agreeing seemed to be enough. There is certainly plenty in Grudge Match to be cynical about both before watching and then while watching, and let us be honest with each other: If you do not like cheesy Hollywood sports films or Stallone’s ‘unique’ style of acting then you are not going to give Grudge Match a second thought. However, for the rest of us that fancy taking a punt on it then I would say with confidence, take it with a pinch (well, generous handful) of salt, and this is a perfectly watchable and enjoyable film if you want something not too challenging but entertaining enough.
This being a sports film, the narrative is extremely text book and Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s script is far from spectacular and does often venture on lazy. The corny and predictable character arcs and typical montages are forgivable, but the two of them do seem to think they can get away with a lot without being found out. For our supposed emotional investment of the characters the script really does get lazy: Henry tries to patch things up with his ex of over 30 years ago (Kim Basinger) who also happened to sleep with Billy. She subsequently got pregnant by Billy but told him never to see his son, and now Billy is trying to patch things up with him. Oh, also his son is a boxing trainer and has a painfully annoying son who Billy looks after. Contrived and lazy are two words that come to mind, and it is pretty obvious to everyone the exact path of those particular stories and it is a little inexplicable that these people go to all this effort to track down our two protagonists who actually deserve no redemption. Sometimes these do detract a little too much from the main story and at 113 minutes the whole film could have done with a little pruning to not exceed 100 minutes as at times it does feel quite slow. A few rewrites and Grudge Match could have most definitely been better as there was potential here for a really fun romp.
However, Grudge Match is not a film that ever takes itself too seriously. Though there is most definitely an uneven and clunky balance between drama and comedy, there is plenty of entertaining moments and some genuinely funny ones (I won’t spoil it). A mid-credits scene involving Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield is also very amusing. There are of course plenty of old age jokes, but these are also handled well, and certainly a lot better than the recent Al Pacino starring Stand Up Guys, anyone who has seen that horrendous film will know what I mean! Also, at the centre of Grudge Match are too game performances from Bob and Sly, they seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves and not ever taking anything too seriously. This certainly shows and without a doubt improves the whole experience, it is just a shame the supporting cast are often sidelined and turn up when it is convenient for the plot (Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal) or just plain irritating and given terrible over the top dialogue (Kevin Hart, Camden Gray). The star of the film for me however is Alan Arkin, he not only gets a vast majority of the film’s best lines, but shares great chemistry between Stallone and he is sadly missed when not appearing for a while.
It takes a while, but we get the inevitable fight. Thankfully Stallone and De Niro do look like old men (but trim ones) and the boxing sequences maybe never grip, but certainly entertain. Suspension of belief is of course necessary, both due to their age and the inevitable schmaltz, but I felt the whole sequence more than justified me investing my time in this film and with the right expectations, I think Grudge Match will produce that feeling in anyone that watches it.
A lacklustre script and extremely cynical casting aside, Grudge Match could have been much better, but also could have been much worse. Grudge Match is certainly a little lightweight and often throws less than convincing jabs, but with Sly and Bob’s gamely performances, it still just about pulls enough punches to entertain as a one off watch.