Grudge Match (**)
Running Time: 113 minutes
Directed by Peter Segal
Starring – Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart
(Movie House Dublin Road preview screening 20/01/2014)
TO say watching Grudge Match was a slightly more enjoyable viewing experience than I’d initially expected, is hardly a ringing endorsement fit for the film’s poster. But Peter Segal’s boxing comedy starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone was surprisingly much more watchable than I’d been led to believe from its terrible looking trailer.
Admittedly there’ll always be a certain cinematic novelty factor about watching the actors who played Jake La Motta and Rocky Balboa go toe to toe against each other, even if both are well beyond their physical prime. Playing out like a Rocky Balboa clone, only for laughs, this film pitches two ageing Pittsburgh boxers against each other, as they re-enter the boxing ring 30 years after their last match. Dubbed Grudgement Day by its promoters, De Niro’s character Billy ‘The Kid’ McGuigan and Stallone’s Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp reluctantly put their gloves on one more time to settle their differences once and for all.
It’s surprising to see Stallone appearing in a film that seemingly sends up one of his most iconic roles, considering this films obvious similarity to that character’s last cinematic outing. But sadly the same can’t be said for De Niro, after his Oscar-nominated role in Silver Lining Playbook and a memorable cameo performance in American Hustle, it really seemed like the actor had finally made a long overdue return to form. But this role, along with his recent performances in The Family and Last Vegas have seen the American actor, considered one of the greatest of his generation, continue to lazily portray an overstated pastiche of him onscreen and not accept more challenging roles.
The two easily sleepwalk their way through their respective leading roles in Tim Kelleher’s predictable and cliché-ridden, screenplay, but they’re still both still both watchable enough throughout the feature. The real success comes from the heavyweight supporting cast, who add some needed credibility and help see the film through to its final round.
Much like his role in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Alan Arkin steals the show as Razor’s ailing trainer Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon. The American actor gets most of film’s laughs, with his persistent grumpiness and wise-cracking. His light-hearted exchanges with Kevin Hart’s wise-cracking, ambitious promoter, Dante Slate Jr. are also particularly amusing.
Sadly some of the film’s other characters, such as Kim Basinger’s Sally, Razor’s ex-girlfriend and B.J. (Jon Bernthal), The Kid’s estranged biological son, are never really that effective, especially Basinger’s. Both simply feel like walking cinematic clichés, never really given that much to do onscreen and seemingly only exist to pad out the film’s story and running-time.
Unexpectedly Segal’s film never recaptures the shame charm as the similarly themed Rocky Balboa, it’s overly predictable and most viewers will know how it’ll all play out long before the two boxers have even entered the ring. While it’s never really funny enough for a comedy nor does capture the feel of a credible boxing movie, it’s still watchable enough.
There’ll be worse films released this year and undoubtedly there’ll be better as well, so I wouldn’t spend that much time getting overly irate about this feature. Unless you’re a huge fan of either leading man, this might just be a film to wait for on DVD for a lazy Sunday night viewing.
By William McClean