Grudge Match isnít Rocky. It isnít even Raging Bull. At the same time, Peter Segalís over-the-hill boxing comedy isnít Little Fockers, Oscar or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot -- arguably the worst films made by Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro -- so thatís saying something.
From here on out, letís refer to Grudge Match as Grumpy Old Boxers, or Rocky 57. Because thatís what it aspires to be. Segal repeatedly shadows Stallone and De Niroís greatest athletic efforts. The former drinks eggs, inspires his fellow blue-collar clock-punchers, and almost punches hanging slabs of beef. Ha ha. De Niro doesnít abuse his spouse. Grudge Match isnít nearly as angry as Bull. But he does riff on stage during a nightclub routine that somehow calls to mind Jake La Motta. But a pale shade of previous classics ends up being just that: a pale shade.
In their prime, Henry ďRazorĒ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ďThe KidĒ McDonnen (De Niro) fought twice, splitting decisions. Their third and final grudge match never happened Ė for reasons Iíll let you discover, should you pay to see this. YearsÖ OK, decades later, fast-talking fight promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart) figures out how to restage an anticipated bout between the one-time champions. But will Father Time be the last one standing when the final bell rings?
Every year, Hollywood fashions a conventional, safe, star-driven comedy meant to give holiday crowds options. Grudge Match reminds me of recent features like Parental Guidance or The Guilt Trip, giving veteran actors unchallenging parts in stories that play right to crowds who only see three or four films a year, and basically want to know exactly what they are getting before they even purchase a ticket. No surprises, please.
Scan the cast, outside of (and including) the two leads. Hart does his best Kevin Hart impression as Slate. Alan Arkin is hired to be Alan Arkin, coming out of ďretirementĒ to train Stallone. And look, thereís Kim Basinger as the sultry vixen who somehow comes between both boxers.
Typecasting doesnít derail Grudge Match, but Segal never asks his actors to do anything they havenít done, perhaps a dozen times before. Co-screenwriters Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman sneak some bite into the verbal jabs Stallone and De Niro lob at each other, and Hart breaks off a handful of stinging jokes that might wake you out of your slumber during this too-long 113-minute comedy. Ultimately, Segal KOís his premise with a barrage of obvious old-age punchlines and a stream of bizarre product-placement advertisements for Target and Ben-Gay. Thereís no TKO, so if we throw it to the judges, theyíd likely come back with a ďno decision.Ē
Reviewed By: Sean O'Connell