Grudge Match isn’t Rocky. It isn’t even Raging Bull. At the same time, Peter Segal’s over-the-hill boxing comedy isn’t Little Fockers, Oscar or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot -- arguably the worst films made by Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro -- so that’s saying something.
From here on out, let’s refer to Grudge Match as Grumpy Old Boxers, or Rocky 57. Because that’s what it aspires to be. Segal repeatedly shadows Stallone and De Niro’s 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 doesn’t abuse his spouse. Grudge Match isn’t 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 “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) fought twice, splitting decisions. Their third and final grudge match never happened – for reasons I’ll let you discover, should you pay to see this. Years… 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 “retirement” to train Stallone. And look, there’s Kim Basinger as the sultry vixen who somehow comes between both boxers.
Typecasting doesn’t derail Grudge Match, but Segal never asks his actors to do anything they haven’t 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 KO’s his premise with a barrage of obvious old-age punchlines and a stream of bizarre product-placement advertisements for Target and Ben-Gay. There’s no TKO, so if we throw it to the judges, they’d likely come back with a “no decision.”