Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone are pretty cool. So 30-plus years after those movies hit theaters, the two stars are united in an interesting quasi-follow-up, 2013's Grudge Match. What's the verdict?
In the mid 1980s, boxers Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Stallone) become huge fan favorites with their ever-growing rivalry. McDonnen wins the first fight, Sharp winning the rematch soon after. When a third fight is brought up, Sharp decides to retire instead, leaving the potential for a grudge match just hanging in the air. Sharp retires to work in a factory while McDonnen continues to fight, becoming a spokesman and product pitchman while opening up his own bar in Pittsburgh. Some 30 years later though, that decisive third match is a distinct possibility as Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of the promoter who worked with both fighters in the 80s, offers them a handsome payday if they agree to fight once more. This isn't just a rivalry anymore though. These two guys hate each other to the point they can't even be in the same room together. Can they hold it together long enough to train for the fight?
My first response when I saw this trailer last fall was simply "No.....just no." I didn't think it looked good in the least. It looked cheesy, cliched and just trying too hard to reclaim past magic from both stars. You know what? I was right on all accounts. You know what else? I was right, and I don't care in the least. Going in with pretty low expectations basically across the board, I ended up liking this sports comedy from director Peter Segal a whole lot. It is cheesy and cliched, but it embraces those aspects rather than trying to avoid them (or worse, trying to avoid them but actually embracing them). 'Grudge' struggled in theaters last Christmas, recouping its 40-plus million budget and little else, as waves of negative reviews convinced people to stay away. Familiar -- maybe too familiar -- it is, but I liked this one as a harmless entertaining sports flick that offers some good laughs.
Come on now, it's Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone. With their respective roles in Raging Bull and Rocky, both actors deserve an all-time space in the Sports Movie Hall of Fame (Look it up, it exists. I swear). Now obviously the drama just isn't as big here. The lead parts aren't so dramatically heavy. People forget sometimes, but Stallone can freaking act when he wants to. De Niro has done more fun movies over recent years than heavy dramatic parts, those choices earning him some hate on any number of message boards. What's wrong with two legendary movie stars and actors having some fun? Of the two, De Niro represents himself well. It's a goofy, over the top story with goofy, over the top characters, and De Niro commits to the part. Stallone looks to be sleepwalking at times, but their scenes together have an enjoyable, funny chemistry. Their bitching and moaning at each other provides some great one-liners in the movie's best moments.
It can't all be old guys busting each other though, can it? Unfortunately not. We get some family drama thrown into the mix, some of it providing some good moments, but mostly, it's just too familiar and cliched. Much of the drama comes from Kim Basinger as Sally, Razor's girlfriend who slept with Billy years before right in the midst of their boxing rivalry. The result of that hook-up? Billy has an estranged son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal), who will now help train the old man while also introducing him to his grandson, the type of movie kid that speaks like no kid ever. Alan Arkin gets the fun, flashy supporting part as Razor's former manager and trainer, "Lightning" Conlon, now relegated to a nursing home. Hart too is pretty funny, his scenes with Arkin offering some memorable lines. Even LL Cool J makes an appearance as a gym owner and trainer. Good cast, decent parts.
Nothing too out of the ordinary here with an enjoyable, familiar formula. We get a couple sports training montages as our two 50-something out of shape fighters get back into shape, editing that in with the less interesting personal drama. The best moments come from Stallone and De Niro reigniting their rivalry with one whackier situation after another. The stop-motion video game capture scene goes especially well, Razor and Kid beating the crap out of each other. I also liked their skydiving gimmick gone horrifically wrong.
Is this especially smart humor? No, not by a long shot, but it is fun. The final fight is nothing too flashy, going for a safe ending. The end credits have some good cameos too from boxing personalities, fighters, on-air commentators and some ESPN sportscasters. An entertaining movie, one that's easy to sit back and watch for a couple hours. Nothing more, nothing less. If you're looking for something more, go watch Raging Bull and Rocky again. And how about that poster, not enhanced at all?
Grudge Match (2013): ***/****