De Niro, Stallone slug it out in clichéd boxing comedy
Grudge Match, Starring Robert De Niro & Sylvester Stallone, Directed by Peter Segal, PG-13, 113 min.
What if the two boxers from two of Hollywood’s most iconic boxing movies of all time came together in one contemporary clash of the titans?
Well, Rocky and Raging Bull don’t show up, exactly, but you’ll have no trouble remembering the roles Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro played some 30 to 35 years ago watching them spar in “Grudge Match,” in which they both portray long-retired palookas lured back to the ring by the promise of a big payday—and the opportunity to settle a decades-old dispute about who’s king of the knock-outs.
Back in the day, “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “Kid” Donnen (De Niro) were Philadelphia scrappers who battled their way to the top of the light-heavyweight heap, culminating in an epic slugfest that ended with a split decision. Razor called it quits, however, and announced his retirement before a tie-breaking rematch could be arranged, and Kid’s been obsessed with “what might have been” ever since.
Now a motor-mouthed young promoter (Kevin Hart) sees an opportunity to make his name (and a lot of moolah) by setting up a long-overdue bout between the two rusty old steel-town foes and turning it into a major media event.
Will Razor agree to put on the gloves one more time? Will the Kid swap pancakes and scotch for salads and sit-ups? Will the press stop making cracks about Geritol and Life Alert necklaces? And who will the woman (Kim Basinger) who had to choose between Kid and Razor three decades choose this time around?
Stallone mumbles, De Niro mugs. There are some funny bits, but director Peter Segal (“50 First Dates,” “Anger Management,” “Get Smart”) somehow manages to miss with most of his punches, comedic and otherwise. The jokes are lame and low; this is the kind of movie that thinks anything from the waist down is hilarious. The story trots out nearly every contrivance and cliché imaginable, and the performances are about as lazy as you can get in a movie that still requires people to get up and walk around.
And walking around isn’t even required, at least not all the time, for Alan Arkin’s character, Razor’s “elderly” trainer, whose ability to self-ambulate comes and goes.
Ironically, one of the best moments of the whole movie happens after it’s finished. Stay for the credits and catch the snippet in which Hart’s promoter tries to tempt another couple of former boxing champs back inside the ring for his next Big Event.
By the time things get around to the “Grudgement Day” match you know is coming, you just want the scene—like the movie—to be over before either Stallone, 67, or De Niro, 70, gets hurt. If I had a towel, I’d have thrown it in long before the legacies of two great movies were slammed to the mat and ground into a crappy comedy like this one.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine