Movie Review: “Grudge Match”

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You know, at any given moment a movie will up and surprise you.

Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in "Grudge Match"

Rocky meets Raging Bull. Who will win? I’m not telling.

Whether you sit down in your theater seat, waiting to take in a flick that you’re positive is going to pure cinematic gold or you’re squirming in your seat, killing time on your iPhone, ready to endure 90 to 120 minutes of what you think will be pure cinematic trash (for my list of these types of movies, check out my “Bottom 10 Films of 2013″ list), sometimes you’re just flat-out wrong with these predictions.

Astoundingly, “Grudge Match” is one of those films.

Now, earlier in the year we saw Sylvester Stallone team up with Arnold Schwarzenegger for an action-packed extravaganza (well, as “action-packed” as it can be) called “Escape Plan,” in which the two old fogies helped each other plan a break-out attempt from a mysterious, maximum-security, floating prison barge that WASN’T Riker’s Island.

If you grew up adoring 1980s action flicks like “Commando,” “Out for Justice” and “Cobra” then you might consider “Escape Plan” the “Best Movie of 2013.” Nevertheless, despite my love for the occasional, exploitative, blood-soaked revenge film (i.e. “Kill Bill” and “The Man with the Iron Fists”), “Escape Plan” DID NOT end up on MY “Top 10″ list.

For that matter, neither does the new comedy “Grudge Match,” but did anybody really expect it to.

However, it did surprise the hell out of me, as it was quite a bit more entertaining than it had the right to be, which really had nothing to do with Stallone himself.

No, it was his co-stars Robert De Niro (who couldn’t exactly call 2013 the greatest year of his

Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro and Kevin Hart in "Grudge Match"

Whaddya mean “washed up”?

career), diminutive local loudmouth Kevin Hart (he’s from Philly, in case you didn’t know) and the dependable Alan Arkin (who was also hilarious this year in a supporting role in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”) that made the movie rather enjoyable to soak up.

Trust me, “Grudge Match had its moments of ridiculousness, most of which came from its absolutely implausible storyline, in which two aging, rival boxers (Stallone and De Niro — or as I like to refer to them, Rocky and Raging Bull) get back in the ring to carry out the rubber match in their best-of-three series. The problem with both of them lacing up the gloves once again is that their last match happened about thirty years earlier and neither of them have done much in the field of pugilism since.

Stallone plays Henry “Razor” Sharp, who’s spent the last three decades working at a Pittsburgh steel

mill and hiding from both professional boxing and the world in general, all the while taking care of his crotchety former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (played by Arkin). On the other hand, De Niro’s character Billy “The Kid” McDonnen has spent his retirement within the public eye, as he lounges around his fledgling restaurant — heavily drinking, hitting on younger women and performing in a nightly variety-type show with a boxing puppet named Jabby. Henry and Billy had their differences while in the throes of their bitter rivalry and not much has changed throughout the years to alter their negative opinion of each other.

So, one fateful night, a documentary about their epic matches airs on ESPN .The creation of these scenes includes some fairly impressive editing featuring film footage of a young Stallone from the first “Rocky” and colorized footage of De Niro in “Raging Bull,” which is manipulated to make it seem like the two of them were in the ring together. This documentary causes the public interest in these two largely forgotten fighters to be rekindled.

Along with this newfound public interest, it also catches the eye of a young, up-and-coming, hungry (and broke) promoter named Dante Slate, Jr. (portrayed by the ultra-talented comedian Hart), whose father, Dante Slate, Sr., was responsible for handling all of the promotional work thirty years earlier and was also guilty of swindling quite a bit of cash right out of Henry and Billy’s pockets as well.

Dante Jr. smells opportunity when gets a call from a video game company who want to use Henry and

Billy in their new disc about boxing’s greatest fighters. Although, he doesn’t have to work too hard to sell the concept to Billy, he has a much more difficult time with Henry, who wants nothing to do with video games, boxing or video games about boxing. He especially wants steer clear of anything that has to do with stepping in the same building as Billy, due to a love triangle involving Billy, the love of his life, and a one night stand. So, he turns Dante’s proposition down.

Nevertheless, Henry finally agrees to do it (after receiving the latest bill from the nursing home that he’s put his former trainer in), as long as Dante promises him that he’ll never have to be in the same room with Billy throughout the whole motion-capture (Mo-Cap) process during the video game shoot.

Well, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that things don’t exactly go as planned at the video game developers’ office and the two men not only end up in the same building, but in the same room when Billy shows up an hour earlier than he’s supposed to just to confront Henry about how he ducked out of their planned rematch all those years ago. Needless to say, things get super-heated and the two aging men wind up throwing each other around the Mo-Cap room, breaking all sorts of expensive equipment and embarrassing themselves in the process.

Of course, in today’s society, where everybody films everything and nobody has any privacy, there’s

Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in "Grudge Match"


always somebody that’s ready to whip out their camera-phone to capture the next big thing… which is exactly what happens here. Henry and Billy’s scuffle, in which they’re both wearing ridiculously-tight, lime-green Mo-Cap suits, eventually goes viral and they suddenly become household names in the boxing world once again. With the public clamoring to see more footage of these two grumpy old men beating each other to a pulp, whispers of a rematch starts making the rounds through cyberspace… and the very desperate Dante Slate, Jr. makes it his personal mission to get these two men back in the ring for their long overdue grudge match, which he wants to call “Grudgement Day.”


I’d give you three guesses as to whether this fight winds up going down, but I’m pretty sure you’d only need one.

The buildup to the inevitable showdown introduces us to a bevy of supporting characters, who show up in various (and sometimes precarious) situations in which Henry is forced to deal with the failure of his past relationship and Billy is forced to take responsibility for the actions that destroyed Henry’s life. By the way, the woman that the two men are fighting over is none other than Kim Basinger, who tries to make the best out of the underwritten and underwhelming role of Sally — the woman who loved both men and ultimately ruined both their lives . However, Basinger’s best turns out to be not-so-great and her performance ends up almost single-handedly dragging out the pace to a bloody crawl.

Thankfully, the rest of the cast is solid and more than makes up for Basinger’s foibles. Jon Bernthal (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” The Walking Dead and Frank Darabont’s newest endeavor, Mob City) does an admirable job as B.J. — the long lost son that was the result of Billy and Sally’s one night stand all those years ago. B.J. is a fairly deep and emotional character who tends to react to Billy’s fatherly shortcomings the exact way you think he should. That being said, there are WAY too many quips about his name and how he shares it with a certain sexual act. Seriously, there are at least three or four scenes

Robert De Niro and Jon Bernthal in "Grudge Match"

Father and son… together again.

where this is brought up. It’s as if screenwriters Tim Kelleher (whose previous work includes such gems as “First Kid” and “The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon) and Rodney Rothman (the upcoming “22 Jump Street”) are under the impression that they’re the first people to make this connection. Uhh, we’ve known this for a while, guys. But, thanks anyway.

Peter Segal (“50 First Dates,” “Get Smart” and the upcoming “Harvey” remake/reboot) provides a pretty stable directional platform for the actors to work on, even though a few of the more dramatic sequences are uninspired and fall flat. I don’t know how much of that aforementioned scene, in which “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” are melded together, Segal is responsible for or if that feat fell to the editing department, but either way this moment is the standout sequence of the film.

The final fight is also impressive, but most of this falls on Stallone and De Niro and the unbelievable shape that both of these elderly men are in. This especially goes for Stallone, a genetic freak that has the stamina and muscle tone of a twenty year-old man, who helps to ramp up the believability factor in the epic showdown during the waning moments of the film. The promotional tour that the two fighters embark on also provides for some memorable moments, including a scene during an MMA fight where a big-mouthed cage fighter gets put in his place.

You’ll especially love this if you’re of the senior citizen variety, as the toughness demonstrated by these two old dudes will cause more than a few canes to be raised high into the sky. There are some plot points that bog down the proceedings, such as the relationship between Billy and his grandchild, as well as most of the scenes between Henry and Sally, but generally the movie entertains enough to make these segments tolerable.

Like I said, sometimes a film surprises you and judging by the fact that I thought “Grudge Match” would be absolutely awful, I guess you could say I was pleasantly surprised by the level of entertainment I encountered.

Now, this doesn’t mean that “Grudge Match” falls into the category of a good film, but it’s not as bad as it probably should have been.

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