Review: 'Grudge Match' a punch-drunk boxing comedy
“Grudge Match” is a sort of “Punchy Old Men,” a slow-footed high-concept comedy that pairs up the screen's greatest pugilists, circa 1981, for a few slaps and a few laughs.
Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone square off as aged boxers brought back by desperation and a desperate fight promoter, played by Kevin Hart.
Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) were light heavyweights who had unfinished business in the '80s. Razor walked away from a decisive third fight after each had taken out the other once in their rivalry.
Kid, a boozing braggart, never forgave Razor. He drinks and does a Jake LaMotta (“Raging Bull”) sort of stand-up act in his bar, where he gets to live the ex-jock's dream in their hometown of Pittsburgh.
Razor went broke, went to work in a steel mill and never got over the woman who came between them (Kim Basinger).
Then the son (Hart) of the promoter who ripped them off back in the day cons them into doing some video-game motion-capture work, reviving their rivalry for a few bucks. That could lead to “Kardashian sex-tape money” if he can get the two 60somethings — who hate each other — back in the ring.
“Grudge” borrows a few plot points from Stallone's “Rocky Balboa” back in 2006, with a viral video of the guys mixing it up at the video-game recording studio putting them back in the news.
Alan Arkin is the foul-mouthed old man Razor wants to train him. Kid can't convince anybody that the fight is anything but a joke, so his newly discovered adult son (Jon Bernthal) takes that gig for him.
Let the countdown to “Grudgement Day” begin.
There's a comforting “we're not dead yet” message, especially in the training sequences. Stallone, who has battled age with the sorts of treatments that turn your face into scrap iron, looks rough, even if he can still carry the bulk. But De Niro, who has been playing old men for 20 years, looks a decade younger, jumping rope, hitting the bag, doing pull-ups.
It's a shame the banter isn't sharper. Hart's zingers lack the pop and the frequency that he delivers in most comedies.
Stallone, convincingly tough, makes the “Rocky” references work. Handed a glass full of raw eggs to knock down, he cracks “Fighters still do this? Looks like a lotta cholesterol.”
De Niro isn't given enough funny stuff to do or say. “I've had my shots. A shot ‘a Jim Beam. A shot ‘a Johnny Walker ...”
Arkin could do his aged, deaf trainer in his sleep — “Don't use sarcasm on me. I'm an old man. I confuse easy.”
As formulas go, this one feels gassed. But it's perfectly passable holiday entertainment for people who dated during the “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” era. Just don't expect this “Grudge Match” to be much of a challenge.
Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.