Distributor: Warner Home Video
BBFC Classification: 12
Director: Peter Segal
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, LL Cool J, Roy Jones Jr., Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Jon Bernthal
Bet you thought that Rocky Balboa would be the final time you’d get to see an old age pensioner stepping into the ring for one last bout of glory – wrong! Eight years after Sylvester Stallone drew the Rocky series to a close in a satisfyingly graceful way the Italian Stallion returns, only this time he’s fighting Jake La Motta. No, it’s not one of those fantasy fight simulators but Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro going toe-to-toe to see whose denture grip lasts the longest in Grudge Match. In a way it could be viewed as an alternative take on Rocky Balboa, with Stallone’s character Henry ‘The Razor’ Sharp substituting for Balboa and having to get back into shape for one more chance to cage the beast that rages within. If you want to look at it another way, it also borrows a lot from Rocky II as Sly’s characters in both films are retired boxers coaxed out of retirement by an old rival that feels he didn’t get his due.
But this isn’t a Rocky film (well, not quite) and nor is it a follow-on to Raging Bull, although Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) does resort to half-arsed stand-up comedy routines to make some extra cash so there is a connection there as well. And that is what Grudge Match plays on, the fact that you’ve seen Raging Bull and the Rocky films because, as you would expect, most of the jokes are references to those movies and the now-obligatory age-related gags. Both actors play former boxers who fought each other twice in their prime and won one fight each, but The Razor retired before the rematch to decide who was the greatest was fought, something that has always infuriated The Kid. Now in their sixties both fighters are asked to contribute motion capture to a new video game but, unable to stand being near each other for more than a few minutes, they both kick off and the scene is set for a very belated rematch.
Which is a basic description of the plot as there are a few other things going on, like the fact that Kim Basinger (Batman/9 1/2 Weeks) plays Sally Rose, Razor’s ex-girlfriend who left him for The Kid when they were younger, something else that fuels the rivalry. However, you’re not watching this for the domestic drama stuff and fans will be pleasantly surprised by how underplayed most – but not all – of the references to the main actors’ former film roles are. You’ll smile when The Razor walks into a meat factory with his trainer Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon (Alan Arkin – Edward Scissorhands) and is told not to punch the sides of beef, you’ll likely chuckle when both boxers are marketing their fight by doing adverts and not sounding too convincing and the scene where they both have to sing the American national anthem in front of a crowded sports arena will probably make you laugh out loud, but the real comedy comes from Alan Arkin, who plays The Razor’s bad tempered old trainer, also forced to come out of retirement. He gets the best lines in the film (some directly lifted from Burgess Meredith’s Mickey character in Rocky) and his constant ribbing of Stallone and highly strung promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart – This is the End) – who also has a few good lines – is a real highlight. To further cement the Rocky II connection you also get a very knowing reference to the eye injury that Stallone seemingly forgot about after that film.
Naturally, there’s a training montage which is something else familiar to get excited about, and it is quite a good one, but the fight itself is the main attraction and it doesn’t disappoint as both actors are experienced enough in staging a realistic boxing fight. Stallone, of course, looks the fittest of the pair (which gives him plenty of opportunity to make moobs jokes at De Niro’s expense) but De Niro still has that mean streak that means you shouldn’t count him out when it comes to dishing out those brutal punches, and the fight is played out in a similar way to the fight in Rocky Balboa – all it needed was Burt Young to appear in the corner, although that could have been one wink at the camera too many.
But despite the amusing nods and winks Grudge Match never really hits the heights that you want it to. Yes, the fight looks good, the main cast are firing on all cylinders and know exactly what they’re doing, and there is some fun to be had spotting the references and waiting for Alan Arkin’s next cantankerous one-liner but it never really gets above being just good, as if the spectacle of having Stallone and De Niro squaring off against each other is enough to see it through. It’s a start and everyone gives their all but the various sub-plot strands – i.e. the stuff with Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) and a highly annoying child – weight it down a little bit, and with a script as obvious and broad as this then it needs all the momentum it can gather. If you’re a Rocky or Raging Bull fan then you’ll get more out of Grudge Match than somebody who has never seen either of them but aside from a few light chuckles and a pretty exciting main fight then there’s probably not a lot to warrant many repeat viewings. That said, do keep watching after the credits start rolling as there are a couple of highly amusing codas that are probably funnier than anything in the main movie.
Special Features: Deleted scenes.
UK Release Date: 2nd June 2014