Like many older actors, Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and Robert De Niro (Raging Bull) don’t want to retire and have used their clout to ensure they keep working. De Niro appeared in four films in 2013 (with diminishing returns). In addition to the Expendables, and Bullet to the Head, last year Stallone starred in Flight Plan, which included a fight scene with Arnie Schwarzenegger, though it wasn’t a pretty sight.
While we were praying there wouldn’t be any sequels, Stallone has, literally this time, snuck back into the ring with De Niro in Grudge Match to revive their most memorable personas, Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, respectively. The high concept might lure you in, but sadly, the execution won’t knock you out.
Two rival boxing legends, from Pittsburgh, Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) who retired from the ring with unfinished business in the 1980s (thirty years previously), can’t resist the offer from a hungry young promoter (Kevin Hart) to stage a come back. But a lot of baggage has accumulated since the height of their careers, and the match publicity draws new relationships out of the woodwork. The media attention causes Sally Rose to resurface, the beautiful, mixed-up woman (Kim Basinger) who conquered both men, and her son with ‘The Kid’, BJ (Jon Bernthal) the child McDonnen never knew he had.
Given Stallone and De Niro are both remembered for their iconic roles as fighters, the concept is clever and Director Peter Segal (Anger Management) handles the final fight scene dexterously almost allowing us to forget De Niro’s paunch. The montage of footage shown at the beginning to set up their unfinished rivalry is skilfully done.
But Segal never met a cliché he didn’t want to use or a wooden performance he didn’t want to animate. Not helping matters, scriptwriters Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman rely on expository and insipid dialogue and unlikely coincidences to avoid the bother of rewriting the script.
Don’t these stars deserve better? Razor Sharp loses his job just minutes after rejecting the lucrative fight, a convenient coincidence that forces him to change his mind and head back to the ring. Billy is approached by the son he never knew he had, who just happens to be a sports (and boxing) trainer who can whip his estranged dad into shape. And in a familiar scene that is nonetheless preposterous, Billy leaves his newfound grandson alone in a bar while he goes upstairs for a quickie. This paves the way for the predictable and sentimental forgiveness scene.
But the biggest insults are reserved for the oldest actor, Alan Arkin, who plays Razor Sharp’s loyal trainer, and the sole female star, Kim Basinger; the great beauty from L.A. Confidential, now 60 and still (cosmetically at least) beautiful. Arkin plays Louis Conlon who has been vegetating in a nursing home either waiting for Sharp’s resurrection and the opportunity to deliver dud joke after dud joke. And Basinger’s Sally is so unsympathetic and opportunistic that you struggle to believe either man would want her let alone fight for her.
by Joyce Glasser, Mature Times film reviewer