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Grudge Match ••

Grudge_Match_PosterStarring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger
Director: Peter Segal
Screenplay: Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman
Comdy/Sports, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2013


Scott, I’m holding a grudge against you for making me see this week’s movie.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

With heavyweights like Stallone and De Niro starring in this movie, it must be a spacious 2-car grudge.

We’re introduced to Henry “Razer” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) who was a middle-heavyweight boxer 30 years ago. He beat out Billy “The Kid” McDennen (Robert De Niro) and retired before they could have a rematch. McDennen went on to be a minor success as a bar owner and used car salesman. Sharp, on the other hand, returned to work in the shipyard.

Sharp has money problems and is offered a nice salary to help develop a video game featuring his likeness. The Kid shows up during Sharp’s work on this project, and the old rivalry heats up when the two men get in a fight. The altercation goes viral on youtube, prompting a promoter, Dante (Kevin Hart), to offer them big bucks if they finally fight in a rematch.

But wait, there’s more. The rivalry between the men goes deeper than boxing. It turns out Razer’s old girlfriend and one true love cheated on him. Sally (Kim Basinger) fears for his safety and tries to talk him out of the fight.

Scott, this is another in a series of movies by older actors about people in their retirement years making a comeback. We saw this over the summer in Red 2 and to a similar degree in Escape Plan not to mention the Expendables franchise. It’s becoming a hackneyed plot device where someone goes back to their old profession years after they should have quit. This time the profession is boxing. And the action is a bit unbelievable.

Yes, there’s no doubt that 2013 is the year that the movie industry tried to lure aging baby boomers into the theaters by offering up Stallone and Arnold in Escape Plan and now Stallone and De Niro in Grudge Match. And these movies do have some appealing nostalgic charm to them. Stallone’s understated acting is effective, and De Niro’s contrasting effervescence shines through, too.

I agree with you that it’s a bit far-fetched for us to believe that 70-year-olds can participate in — and survive — violent and extended fight scenes involved blood, swelling, and a tremendous fist-pounding. But the filmmakers here are banking on the fact that all of us aging geezers will suspend disbelief, fall into a state of blissful denial, and bask in the warm reminiscent glow of earlier Rocky and Raging Bull movies.

The two men are enemies and you know how this has to end. It has all the classic sports-hero montages (working out with little success building to successfully hitting the bags). There are nods to the Rocky films (we’ve seen the trailers where Stallone goes to hit a side of beef and his trainer (Alan Arkin) stops him). By the way, there are very few funny moments in this film, but Alan Arkin made me laugh out loud. That’s one guy who never gets old.

Yes, Arkin lands several comedic punches, more so than does Kevin Hart, but I acknowledge that I may be generationally biased here. As hero journeys go, these are rival heroes similar to what we’ve seen in Rush. Not to give away too much, but it seems pretty clear what has to happen over the course of the movie for us to walk out of the theater feeling good about two bitter enemies.

I hate to say this, but Stallone and De Niro should take a page from the careers of Harrison Ford and John Goodman, both of whom have learned that supporting roles rather than leading roles are the way to go as one enters the late-career stage. It must be hard for actors with big egos to come to terms with the idea that your age precludes you from carrying an entire movie like you used to be able to do. I think Bruce Willis is also learning this lesson.

You’ve hit the nail on the head, Scott. Grudge Match delivers no surprise punches. Everything works out the way you expect and if you’re a fan of either actor you’ll be happy with what is up on the screen. Kim Basinger looks good at any age. Stallone’s body is one that any man would be proud of. And Robert De Niro, well, he has guts going shirtless in this film.

But compared to many of the fine films we saw in 2013, I can’t in good conscience give Grudge Match more that 2 Reels out of 5. It was a fun romp, if fantastic. The hero story was also lackluster for a rating of 2 Heroes out of 5. There was some growth and some healing, but it was all in slow motion and pretty predictable from the start.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-2

Totally agree, Greg. I’m giving Grudge Match 2 Reels and 2 Heroes for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. This isn’t a bad movie by any means. It’s a semi-enjoyable and mindless two-hour diversion, and I recommend it for anyone who is a big fan of any of the four major players in this flic, i.e., Stallone, De Niro, Arkin, and Hart. And I must add that it was also fun seeing Kim Basinger do a nice job as the love interest caught in the middle of the rivalry.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-2

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