Grudge Match

In Films by Ben Winkley

In the one corner, with the careworn features, 1949 world middleweight champion, the Raging Bull himself, Robert ‘Jake LaMotta’ De Niro! And in the other corner with the immovable face, the 1976 world heavyweight champion, the Italian Stallion, Sylvester ‘Rocky Balboa’ Stallone! This Grudge Match is a gruelling experience over 113 minutes, as both fighters besmirch their legacies for your entertainment. Let’s get ready to grrrrrrrumble!

Seriously though, shame on Stallone and De Niro for getting back in the ring. All memories of Martin Scorsese‘s operatic 1980 classic (Raging Bull) and the glorious everyman tale that made Stallone a star (Rocky) will be scrubbed from your mind’s eye should you make the active choice to go see Grudge Match.

De Niro and Stallone play Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen and Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp respectively, two old Pittsburgh fighters whose fierce rivalry put them in the national spotlight back in the ‘80s. In their two fights they each scored one victory but on the eve of the third and deciding bout Razor walked away with no explanation, ending both their careers at a stroke.

Thirty years on, a young boxing promoter with dollar signs in his eyes makes the two, now down-on-their-luck, pugilists an offer they can’t refuse: let’s have one more go, for old times.

Wouldn’t you know, still waters run deep. The Kid has never forgotten the premature ending of his boxing days; Razor remembers the love of his life (Kim Basinger) getting in the club at the erm, hand of his rival.

In the process of promoting the fight, tensions boil over and the increasingly bizarre scuffles are, naturally, captured on cameraphones and go viral, much to the pleasure of the avaricious promoter (Kevin Hart). With an audience guaranteed, can the two old soaks survive the training? The Kid gets into shape with the help of the son he sired with Razor’s old girlfriend. Razor turns to his old mentor, played in the typical late career ‘I’m a funny old guy’ way by Alan Arkin.

But here’s the thing. Grudge Match is billed as a comedy. Arkin’s a funny guy. Hart sells out arenas with his stand-up. De Niro has comedy chops. Admittedly some people laugh at Stallone, rather than with him. And yet, Grudge Match is not funny at all.

A large part of that is down to director Peter Segal, who being a frequent collaborator with Adam Sandler knows a thing or two about not making people laugh. And the rest of the blame must be laid at the door of Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, who have created a script that relies heavily on blow-job gags and includes so many references to the Kardashians and iPads that no-one will understand it in 20 years.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the main event is a non-event. Should you be asked to go, take a fall before it even begins. Get in the ring with a hand behind your back and a Klitschko in the other corner. Anything, please, to avoid watching the blessed memories of Jake LaMotta and Rocky Balboa being repeatedly punched into a twitching heap.