Directed by: Peter Segal
Premise: Two aged boxers (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro) are coaxed out of retirement to settle an old rivalry.
What Works: Grudge Match was clearly written, or at least rewritten after casting, to accommodate lead actors Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro and capitalize on their filmographies. This is a movie built around a gimmick, with the lead actors of Rocky and Raging Bull lampooning their most famous roles, and the filmmakers recognize the strengths of their core cast. Stallone is the reluctant but earnest blue collar everyman while De Niro plays a sleazy but sympathetic business man. The main cast also includes Alan Arkin as the trainer of Stallone’s character and Arkin plays the cantankerous old man shtick that he does so well. Grudge Match is at its best when it is self-aware and the picture frequently plays as a parody of the Rocky series and other boxing pictures. This is a surprise since Raging Bull and the better entries of the Rocky series were quite serious but Grudge Match is a successful comedy. The movie has a lot of laughs, crude and obvious as many of them may be, and whenever Stallone and De Niro are on screen together they are very watchable. The filmmakers play through all the boxing clichés but because they wink at the audience the clichés are softened and those who find the Rocky films irresistible are probably going to like this film.
What Doesn’t: Grudge Match is fun but it also not very imaginative. The homages to Raging Bull and especially to Rocky are amusing at first but the filmmakers cram so much of the Rocky series into this picture that it feels like a collection of outtakes. In fact, the conceit of Grudge Match is essentially the same premise as Rocky Balboa, the final entry in that series. However, the filmmakers of Grudge Match do not overcome the absurdity of their premise, that sexagenarian fighters would go back into the ring. It is to the credit of the filmmakers of Rocky Balboa (which was written and directed by Stallone) that the 2006 film managed to convincingly sell the idea of a sixty-year old man fighting an opponent a third of his age; in Grudge Match the fighters are of the same generation and yet the premise is less convincing. Part of the problem may be the lack of compelling drama. Raging Bull and the better entries in the Rocky series demonstrated that sports movies are not really about sports at all. These movies are about people and the training and the sportsmanship is a way to dramatize human experiences and relationships. Both Raging Bull and Rocky linked the boxing action to stories about men and their families. Grudge Match also has family drama but it isn’t very compelling and whenever the movie goes for emotion it tends to come off silly or overly calculated. This is especially true in the ending. The entire gimmick of Grudge Match is built around the promise of a boxing match between the lead actors of Raging Bull and Rocky; that is the film’s raison d’etre. But when the fight finally occurs it is underwhelming. Here again the movie borrows heavily from 2006’s Rocky Balboa but the storytellers make some absurd choices. Grudge Match is also uneven as a comedy. The humor of the picture is very broad and often hit-or-miss. The film relies too frequently on old man jokes and the humor of Kevin Hart, who plays an unscrupulous boxing promoter (is there another kind?) is frequently obnoxious. Some viewers may also be surprised by the crudity of Grudge Match’s humor. The film is rated PG-13 but the jokes, especially by Arkin and De Niro, go beyond innuendo and so parents who are sensitive about this kind of humor should consider themselves advised.
Bottom Line: Grudge Match is not a very good movie but it is very entertaining. It is fun to see Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro poke some fun at their most famous roles and it has enough humor to make it worthwhile at least as a matinee or a rental.
Episode: #473 (January 12, 2014)