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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Grudge Match
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by Jay Seaver

"Cast over screenplay in a split decision."
3 stars

At many, many, many points in "Grudge Match", it gets very easy to wonder if anybody involved really thought this through beyond the high-concept casting of the stars of "Rocky" and "Raging Bull" as boxing rivals set up for a rematch thirty-odd years later. The good news is that not only did the filmmakers get that ideal casting, but at some point the actors decided to take a little bit of the "we're old, but we've still got some pride" message to heart and make a bit of effort.

Rocky's Sylvester Stallone plays Henry "Razor" Sharp, while Robert De Niro plays Billy "The Kid" McDonnen, both Pittsburgh natives who had a pair of memorable fights in the early 1980s and were set for a rematch when Razor suddenly retired. Now, Razor is a steelworker whose only connection to boxing is visiting his old trainer Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin) in the retirement home, while McDonnen trades off his fame at various small businesses. A story on ESPN has their late promoter's son Dante Jr. (Kevin Hart) hustling to get them in a video game, which becomes a rematch, even though they're even older than Foreman was during his comebacks. And in case there wasn't enough drama, Sharp's ex-girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger) and McDonnen's son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) return to their lives.

That's a great cast, and it's a good thing, because there's not a whole lot to the script. It hits on a lot of situations that have some whiskers on them, making macho old-guy jokes and setting up situation that desperate sitcom writers might avoid because they've got at least a little bit of pride. There's not really a "ha, that's clever!" moment in the entire movie, although to its credit, there also aren't many times when things feel sloppy. Yes, many situations are predictable or convenient, but writers Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman stitch them together fairly well.

Director Peter Segal has mostly made a career out of letting his stars do their things, and while it hasn't always worked out so well quality-wise, he's lucky enough to have a good, and engaged, cast here. Take Sylvester Stallone, who has been in the big-star mindset so long that it's easy to forget what a great working-class hero he is and how well he wears humility. Even the sardonic quips work better when they seem a bit unexpected. De Niro, meanwhile, seems to be having fun as the guy who never really matured after his time at the top, but he's not just on autopilot; he's got a moment where he makes what could just be whining something plaintive that gets at just how competitive athletes are at their core.

And they've got help. You're not often going to go far wrong with putting Alan Arkin in a movie when you need someone acerbic but big-hearted, and Arkin hits the bulls-eye on nearly every joke he's given like the pro he is. Kevin Hart's shtick may not be so universally loved, but he definitely knows how to work his comic persona, enthusiastically bouncing off the rest of the cast. Kim Basinger doesn't get to be a movie's leading lady very often any more, but she pairs up with Stallone pretty naturally, and gives Sally a lot more life than a character in her position necessarily has. Jon Bernthal gets to display an easy charm that one might not expect from his darker characters on The Walking Dead and Mob City. That's a deep, solid cast of folks giving the film close to exactly what it needs.

As you might expect from some of those descriptions, Grudge Match is eventually going to go for sentiment as much as jokes, and that's okay; Segal and his cast do a fair job of getting the audience to like this crew by the time the big fight starts. He handles that pretty well, too, letting us see that Razor and The Kid aren't what they once were but not making a joke out of these guys we've invested in, either. The path to the finish is a bit shaky, but the film gets where the audience wants it to be.

It's not the best everybody involved can do, and the cast has to work their way through some uninspired gags to get to where they can shine a bit. At least things pick up as it goes along, and by the end, it's not a bad time at all.

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originally posted: 01/07/14 16:04:22
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User Comments

5/18/14 mr.mike It was "no bad". 3.5 stars 3 stars
4/17/14 Charles Tatum Shockingly good, not the goofball comedy the trailer suggests 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2014

  24-Jan-2014 (12A)

  DVD: 08-Apr-2014

Directed by
  Peter Segal

Written by
  Tim Kelleher

  Robert De Niro
  Sylvester Stallone
  Alan Arkin
  Kim Basinger
  Jon Bernthal
  Kevin Hart

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