Review: Grudge Match
PLOT: Two former boxing champs- Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) - and lifelong rivals reunite in the ring thirty years after their last fight to settle old scores.
REVIEW: I’m not going to lie and say that I had sky-high expectations for GRUDGE MATCH. While yes, it does pair two legends- Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone- their last movie together, COPLAND was a full seventeen years ago. In the years since, Stallone’s managed a nice comeback, which has recently hit a bit of a rocky (no pun intended) patch with BULLET IN THE HEAD, while De Niro has mostly coasted on underwhelming roles, minus the occasional powerhouse part (BEING FLYNN, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK). Still, the two guys seem to have genuine affection for each other, and considering how both were iconic as boxers in their heyday (Sly with ROCKY, De Niro with RAGING BULL) I figured it might be fun to see them go at it as old men.
It’s too bad that GRUDGE MATCH is such a witless rehash. Twenty years ago, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did virtually the same thing with GRUMPY OLD MEN, with the two as “frenemies” who- natch- can’t seem to live without having the other around to hate. The only real difference is that the two guys here are a bit younger, and a little tougher with them being ex-boxers. Sly plays the nice one, being a former champ who quit boxing years ago after finding out that his girlfriend (Kim Basinger) had a fling with De Niro, and has since spent his time working blue-collar jobs, and welding sculptures out of trash. Get it- he’s the sensitive one.
De Niro, one the other hand, is still milking his fame, operating a cheesy bar where he puts on risqué puppet shows, and dreams of the day he can finally go mano-a-mano once more in the ring with Stallone, who he thinks stole his title from him. Enter Kevin Hart, as the spawn of their former Don King-style manager, who convinces the two guys to lend their likeness to a video game. After the two end up getting into a scrap while doing green screen work, and the video goes viral, Hart manages to throw together an exhibition match for the two that quickly spirals out of control, bringing up buried secrets and rivalries.
While I’ve been especially hard on De Niro as of late, I do so only because I genuinely believe he’s the greatest actor of his generation and I hate to see him slumming it. The one good thing I can say about GRUDGE MATCH is that De Niro at least seems to be having a good time here. Of the two, while Stallone is in way better shape physically, De Niro actually comes off younger and sprightlier. The best parts of GRUDGE MATCH are the bits that focus on De Niro and his estranged son- an ideally cast Jon Bernthal from THE WALKING DEAD and MOB CITY. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the two tough guys play well off each other, and Bernthal seems especially on-point around De Niro, bringing some real chops to the film it may not have had otherwise.
I wish I could say the same for Stallone. I love the guy, but it can’t be denied he sleepwalks through GRUDGE MATCH, and gives the lowest-energy performance I’ve seen from him in a while. Maybe Sly’s trying to play him as world-weary and tired, but whenever he’s on-screen whatever energy the film had going for it just lags. Given the material, you can’t really blame the guy, but even Alan Arkin, playing his default “wise-cracking old guy” part as Sly’s trainer, and Kim Basinger (still gorgeous at sixty) as his love interest don’t really bring out much in him. He seems bored.
Again though- who can blame him? GRUDGE MATCH could have been a fun film, but given the generic direction from Adam Sandler regular Peter Segal, and a curiously bloated running time (close to two hours) it just falls flat over and over again. Even as a huge fan of both guys, I really can’t recommend GRUDGE MATCH even if the handful of scenes between Bernthal and De Niro give the film a bit of a boost here and there. This is a lazy Sunday Netflix rental at best, and both guys are capable- and deserving- of much better.