There’s no denying that “Rocky vs Raging Bull” is certainly a movie concept with legs, even if said legs are a bit rickety and arthritic. And in execution, while the pairing of a past their prime Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro may not exactly be a completely knockout, there’s definitely still a lot of fight left in these two once-were heavyweight box office champs, even if the people in their corners need to hold them up from time to time.
And now that I’ve run out of decent boxing analogies, let’s get on with the review before I start yammering on about stinging butterflies and floating bees.
Grudge Match sees Stallone and De Niro as Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “the Kid” McDodden, who 30 years ago were the two best light-heavyweight boxers on the planet. The in- and out-of-the-ring rivals had an epic two fight series, but with the scores tied at one win each and with Razor taking Kid’s championship belt in the last fight, Razor suddenly decides to retire, depriving Kid of his chance to settle the score for good. Turns out Kid slept with and got Razor’s girlfriend pregnant, and this was Razor’s way of getting revenge.
Three decades later and the down-on-his-luck son of Razor and Kid’s original boxing promoter, Dante Slate Jr (played by a scene stealing Kevin Hart), is inspired to finally stage the long awaited grudge match after a video of the two, now so past their prime that it’s bordering on slapstick fighters getting into a fight goes viral on the internet.
And what begins as a joke and desperate option to just make ends meet by the financially struggling Razor, turns into a massive event, bringing some old skeletons out of the closet. Well, I say skeleton, but that description couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to Kim Basinger, who must bathe in the blood of virgins every night as she apparently hasn’t aged since 1997. She plays Sally, Razor’s erstwhile love of his life and mother to Kid’s estranged, now grown up, fitness trainer son B.J (Jon Bernthal) and even Helen Keller can already see where this interlocked clutch of cliches is headed, right?
So yes, we have the obligatory returning old flame angle, the daddy issues angle, the coming out of retirement to save your house angle, and just for good measure, they even throw in an improbably cute and precocious to the point of annoyance grandson. You can easily say that Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman’s script is a just slap-dash collection of ideas we’ve already seen in other pictures. Hell, even the boxing choreography – which still looks like the fight choreography normally found in Super Nintendo boxing games starring Mike Tyson – is borrowed from Stallone’s Rocky films.
But what the actors and director Peter Segal (Anger Management, The Longest Yard, Get Smart) does though, is make it all incredibly fun. There are several literal laugh out loud moments throughout the film, with the actors bouncing zingers off each other every other scene. And none more so than Hart and Alan Arkin, who plays Razer’s crotchety old trainer, Louis “Lightning” Conlon. These two engage in a side splitting battle of barbs every single time they’re on screen together, and whereas Stallone and De Niro’s ribbing occasionally swings and misses, Hart and Arkin’s one-two combo just never misses the mark (Okay, so maybe I still have some boxing analogies left).\
This is also the most alive I’ve seen De Niro in a while, even if his enthusiasm sometimes veers into cartoon country, while Stallone and Bernthal bring the only small bits of emotional gravitas to the film as a man who gave up fame to live on a shoestring budget all because of a broken heart, and a son hoping to reconnect with a father he never knew, respectively.
All in all though, Grudge Match is the type of movie that will stay with you for less time than it takes for all that stale movie popcorn to work its way out of your system. It may be headlined by two of the biggest movie stars on the planet back in their heyday, but it’s essentially nothing but fluff. Luckily, it’s also very, very funny fluff that should have your abs crunching up in laughter, even if your heart and head will get nary a workout. Just make sure you stick around during the credits for one last after-the-bell comedy KO.
Last Updated: January 29, 2014