REVIEW: “Grudge Match”

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Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro have had incredibly successful movie careers. What a shame that they have reached a point to where they would sign on for something as gimmicky and flimsy as “Grudge Match”. The trailer for the film left nothing to be desired. It made the movie look shameless and utterly predictable. Well, after seeing it I can confirm that it hasn’t an ounce of shame and you’ll see everything coming from a mile away. That said, it’s still not as bad as it could have been. But that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Stallone and De Niro have both had big successes with boxing movies – Stallone had “Rocky” and De Niro “Raging Bull”. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to see this film is clearly milking the whole Rocky Balboa versus Jake LaMotta novelty. Yes these are different characters who have different stories and different personalities. But this is clearly meant to cash in on the two older and superior movies. The big problem is I couldn’t care less about the gimmick.

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The story is a pretty ridiculous and cliché-riddled. Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) were big time boxers who had a heated rivalry stemming from their two fights where each won one apiece. But right before the decisive rematch Razor retires. Thirty years later Kid is still furious that he was denied his shot at Razor. But as luck would have it a loud mouthed aspiring promoter (Kevin Hart) eventually gets a rematch. It’s first viewed as a big joke but soon, through the power of the cell phone generation, people begin to take notice of this grudge match for the ages (did I really just say that?).

Perhaps the best thing about this film are the performances. Both Sly and Bobby give committed performances even though the material is weak. To be honest I’m not surprised that Stallone would take a part like this, but it’s really sad to see De Niro reserved for such fluff. That aside, each gives all he has to try to make it all work and they are both really good. The problem is you have to wade through endless ‘out of shape’ jokes, over-the-hill gags, and some trumped up drama that is impossible to sell. It has a few funny moments and it is fun watching these two work. But it’s not too much to ask for a smarter and more engaging script.

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Most of the supporting cast is very good even though they too are hampered by the lackluster material. Alan Arkin is cast as Razor’s crude trainer. Arkin is always good but here is is such a caricature. Kim Basinger also pops up and tries to save a role that is so fabricated and poorly written. We also get Jon Bernthal as a character shoehorned into the story for dramatic effect. He’s actually very good and he’s really proving himself as a better actor with each new role. All of these performances are good despite the narrative obstacles each face. I can’t really say the same for Kevin Hart who seems to be in constant standup comedy mode. Every single scene he’s in features him doing his shtick. Eventually it grew tiresome and annoying.

So how do you summarize “Grudge Match”? It’s a film featuring some good performances, scattered chuckles, and pretty capable direction. But you can dress up the pig all you want and it’s still a pig. When it comes down to it the commitment of the actors and the decent direction can only go so far. At some point you have to have good material and that’s what “Grudge Match” lacks. What we are given is hokey and forgettable comedy that’s not nearly as funny as it wants to be. I was definitely ready to throw in the towel.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

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37 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Grudge Match”

  1. Good review. This is definitely below average, though I think it fun enough that it still manages to be entertaining. Even if De Niro’s character is not really all that dissimilar from Jake La Motta.

  2. I haven’t watched this but it sounds like a gimmick if there’s isn’t good material to support it. At least Jon BernthalI looks more like Deniro’s son unlike Bradley Cooper in SLP. Good review as always.

  3. It was a fun little movie, although completely forgettable. Did not mind Kevin Hart as much, but you are right that he was in comedy standup mode the whole time…but then again he always is in every movie he is in.

    • Sounds like you liked it more than I did. I felt the fun wore off pretty quick. As for Hart, I think you either like him and his routine or you don’t mainly because that’s all he seems to have. Personally I find him loud, obnoxious, and annoying. A little of him goes a long ways.

      I do give credit to Sly and Bobby for at least committing to their characters. Both are actually very good. The material is just so bad.

    • It’s pretty lame through and through. De Niro and Stallone are both actually quite good and they give 100%. In fact I would say they rise above the material. But you can only do so much with a dumb, gimmicky script.

      As a De Niro completist you do need to see this. And it will remind you that he is a really good actor. But it will also leave you wishing for a better role. He deserves better.

      • I’m one who still believes he has a big role or two left in him. I’m really not sure why filmmakers have pulled away from him. Is it that he’s reached this mysterious age limit where roles dry up? I don’t get it.

      • I still think he’ll pull a couple of great performances again too. Strangely the age thing normally applies to actresses but some actors seem to suffering the same thing. Pacino ain’t doing too hot these days either.

      • NO HE ISN’T. When Pacino appeared in Adam Sandler’s turd of a movie “Jack and Jill” I knew his career was hurting bad! Did you ever see that thing? It was an embarrassing moment for a really great actor.

      • I haven’t seen it. I normally avoid Adam Sandler movies. The only one I liked was Punch Drunk Live and that wasn’t because of him. I’ve seen Pacino in some stinkers though. It’s not bright for these once unstoppable actors.

  4. I agree with Mark and your assessment. I don’t know why DeNiro accepts terrible scripts. Last Vegas was as predictable as they come, but I liked it anyway, I wasn’t expecting art just fun. I didn’t go see this and probably won’t rent it either. NIce review anyhow, Keith.

    • Thanks Cindy. It’s really puzzling isn’t it? The guy is still a great actor but is he excepting any and every role he gets? Is he getting any high quality leading roles?

      I had mentioned this to Mark, there seems to be this mysterious age limit where good quality roles from Hollywood dry up for an actor. Is that what’s happening here?

    • Thanks man. It definitely wallows in mediocrity. The two big-name leads give good performances but the material is just so crappy. It tries to be funny and it tries to be emotional. Neither work out too well.

      What are your thoughts on Kevin Hart? He seems to be everywhere these days but I don’t really care for his shtick.

      • I knew Stallone and De Niro would be great. Kevin Hart is a comedian (not particularly funny) through and through, I don’t think he can help himself, he has to act that way.

    • I agree and I don’t really understand it. I look at him and see what he brings to the screen and I know he still has some big roles left in him. Maybe, hopefully we’ll get to see that soon.

  5. Ahah, well speaking of aging (and raging) stars still in action! I have to admit I have little interest in seeing this despite the nostalgia factor. I think Ted reviewed it but I forgot if he liked it or not.

    • That’s right, this is timely. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much to back up my comments about enjoying the old guys. This thing is pretty terrible. It has a few decent moments sprinkled in but it is certainly not worth catching up to. I actually have another “old guys” review written up. It may go up next week.

  6. Good review Keith. It was okay, but could have been a lot better had they not been so up-front with its clearly mean and disgusting bouts of humor. Although the cast does try and make it all work wonders.

  7. Not even having seen the film, even I can figure that 2 stars is about all this is worth….. I wish Stallone would stick to Expendables, and DeNiro would go back to making awesome films with Scorsese or somebody, instead of liteweight trash….

    • Yep, I’m with you. Stallone is definitely better suited for big and loud action pictures. The De Niro is another thing altogether. It seems to me that he’s excepting any role that gets handed to him. But there doesn’t seem to be any big quality roles thrown his way. Why do you think the roles for De Niro have dried up?

    • Your skepticism was well warranted. This thing tramples over nostalgia until it becomes pure gimmickry. It’s very predictable, not that funny, and at times it’s just lame. You’re not missing anything with this one. 😉

      • …I was actually surprised how seriously Stallone and De Niro took this when they were recently on the BBC’s Graham Norton talk show. Fair play – they are guys who have obviously put the work in in the gym and as far as boxing goes, they take it seriously, but the idea behind the film should have surely been one of fun but that seems to have been lost on them.

      • Yes they tried to mix humor and drama but unfortunately neither works very well at all. You’re exactly right, Stallone and De Niro really go for it. Their performances are really good. But at some point the material has got to be decent and ultimately that is what lets the film down.

  8. I doubt I’ll catch this. I saw them both on a UK talk show last month promoting this movie, where the usual fawning by the host took place. De Niro looked utterly embarrassed by the praise the film got from the presenter. I enjoyed his cameo in American Hustle, but I really wonder about his choices these days. Is it him? His agent? Is he just not being offered decent scripts?

    • That’s the big question. I wish I knew the answer because he is too good an actor to resort to these types of roles. I don’t understand it at all. This is a pretty clunky movie and not the type of film that I would expect him to be in. At least not until recently…

  9. Pingback: » Movie Review – Rocky Balboa Fernby Films

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