December 25, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Grudge Match”

More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem


GRUDGE MATCH:  Watch It At Home – Far From A Knock-Out

1976 was the year of both Taxi Driver and Rocky.  Sylvester Stallone would go on to make innumerable millions, but he’d never be taken as seriously again as he was that year, as writer and star of the Cinderella movie he rode all the way to a Best Picture Oscar (with dual nominations for himself), while DeNiro’s Travis Bickle cemented his place as the most daring, electrifying actor of a spectacular generation.  It was 37 years ago, but it might as well be a millennium.  DeNiro still had several amazing roles ahead, including his own boxing classic with Raging Bull, but for a long time now, both men have been more notable for their income streams than for the quality of their performances (when DeNiro rouses himself every so often to really act, as in Silver Linings Playbook, it comes as a shock).  Recently the two have been diversifying their acting portfolio into Geezer Cinema, reliving/exploiting their past triumphs and teaming with fellow oldsters for profit if not fun.  It’s nothing new–Geezer Cinema practically defined John Wayne’s post-True Grit career, and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made a franchise out of Grumpy Old Men–but as audience demographics change, it’s becoming an increasingly significant part of Hollywood’s business.  Stallone’s been there with Rocky Balboa, his Expendables franchise and Escape Plan, which united him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, while just in the past few months, DeNiro appeared in The Family (where in one scene his character led a post-screening discussion of Goodfellas) and Last Vegas, which was The Hangover for AARP members with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline.

So GRUDGE MATCH, or something like it, was probably inevitable, Rocky and Raging Bull in the ring together again for the first time. Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s script gives us old favorites like Rocky–pardon me, Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone)–drinking raw eggs and almost using a side of beef as a punching bag, until feisty old trainer “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin as Burgess Meredith) stops him.  The Jake LaMotta parallels are slightly less on the nose–Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (DeNiro) doesn’t scream abuse or physically punish those around him–but like Jake, Kid owns a nightclub and does a terrible comedy routine on stage.  Razor and Kid fought twice, 30 years ago, and split the victories, but then Razor abruptly quit the ring before either could win the rubber match, leaving Kid bitter and furious.  Now, much like Rocky would have if he hadn’t gotten that rematch with Apollo Creed, Razor is a humble widower who works in a Pittsburgh factory and makes metal sculptures on the side, and Kid has his bar and basks in what’s left of his old glory.  One day Dante Slate, Jr (Kevin Hart), the fast-talking son of Razor’s former manager, comes to call with the idea that each man separately be part of a CG boxing videogame where their images could be put together in the computer and they’d never have to meet.  But of course they do meet, and the ensuing fracas becomes a viral sensation and leads to an offer for a real fight.

Each character is given one storyline besides the fight itself, both courtesy of Sally (Kim Basinger), who turns out to be the reason Razor called off the third fight all those years ago.  She’d been his girlfriend, but angry at him, she slept with Kid–and although he’s never known it, she bore his son, who now goes by the how-many-dumb-jokes-can-we-get-outta-this name BJ (Jon Bernthal), who happens to be a personal trainer, and who has a theoretically adorable tyke of his own.  So Razor rekindles his romance with Sally, while Kid tries out fatherhood and grandfatherhood while being trained by BJ.  Various contrivances try unconvincingly to raise the specter that the fight won’t happen, but we know that without a fight there’s no movie, so the suspense isn’t exactly edge-of-the-seat.

You might have an assortment of feelings watching the fight sequence, because although the blood is of course fake and Stallone and DeNiro have signed up for these paychecks, those are the real bodies of 67-year old Stallone and 70-year old DeNiro up there (even if, in Stallone’s case, the proper word perhaps is “real”) for our amusement, genuine old men who may not be pounding each other, but who are certainly pretending to pound each other.  It’s all in good fun, but you wish they’d managed to finish out their careers with a little more dignity.  Basinger, her 60-year old face a replica of itself, is a reminder of another kind of on-screen aging.  As for their performances, neither man embarrasses himself more than usual.  Stallone gives a more plastic version of his acting in Rocky Balboa, while DeNiro contributes the sitcom stuff he’s been churning out for the last decade or so, with the occasional hint of his recent bad daddy roles in Silver Linings and Being Flynn.  Basinger brings a little grace to her part; she has that gift that we saw in L.A. Confidential for being emotionally bruised, and she’s the only one on screen who conveys the feeling of an actual life lived.  Grudge Match only intermittently sparks up when Arkin and Hart briefly share the screen and start throwing insults at one another.  Their different performance rhythms, old-time curve versus fast-ball, complement each other; if Neil Simon were still writing plays, he could give them a solid evening’s worth of schtick.

Director Peter Segal, a hack from the Adam Sandler brigade (Anger Management, 50 First Dates, the odious remake of The Longest Yard) keeps things moving, although at 113 minutes, Grudge Match seems to have a grudge against the audience, and the script could have used another edit and at least one less sentimental twist.  Dean Semler’s photography is perhaps a bit more believably gritty than you’d normally see in a project like this, but the other technical credits are routine.  It’s a thoroughly routine movie for that matter, but what else would anyone expect?  If you’ve seen the trailers for Grudge Match and it seems like something you’d want to see, it probably is.  If not, just wait for Stallone to be teamed with Pacino, or DeNiro with Bruce Willis, or either of them with Harrison Ford.  Geezer Cinema will provide.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."