Sunday, May 11, 2014

#1,364. Grudge Match (2013)

Directed By: Peter Segal

Starring: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger

Tag line: "Never give up the fight"

Trivia: Alternate endings were filmed to avoid any spoilers or leaks

The idea of putting Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro, both of whom played fighters in the past (Stallone, of course, was Rocky Balboa in six films, and DeNiro won an Oscar for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull), together in a boxing movie was a stroke of genius. And while Grudge Match does deliver on several counts (including the inevitable showdown between the two), the movie isn’t without its problems.

In the ‘80s, two boxers from the Pittsburgh area went toe-to-toe with each other for the right to be called Light Heavyweight Champion of the World. In their first bout, reigning champ Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) was knocked out by Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (DeNiro), but in the rematch, it was Razor who flattened The Kid (though most agree The Kid wasn’t mentally prepared for the fight). Then, before they could meet for a tiebreaker, Razor announced his retirement from the sport without so much as a reason why. Needless to say, The Kid was pretty pissed.

It’s been 30 years since either man stepped into the ring. Nowadays, Razor, who lost every penny he made as a boxer, works at a steel mill, scraping by with just enough to support his longtime trainer, Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin), who resides at an assisted living facility. As for The Kid, he invested his money in both a car dealership and a popular bar / restaurant, and has made a good living for himself. Yet try as he might, Kid can’t let go of the fact that he never got a chance to reclaim the title. Enter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), son of the promoter who handled the duo’s first two bouts. With the promise of a big payday, Dante lures Razor and The Kid back into the ring. Naturally, there are a few problems to overcome, including their age (both men are now in their mid-sixties), and the fact they still hate each other’s guts, and can barely stand being in the same room for 5 minutes, let alone a boxing ring for 10 rounds. What happened to cause such animosity between them? It might have something to do with when Kid slept with Razor’s girlfriend, Sally (Kim Basinger) and, in the process, knocked her up. Razor has lived with the pain of this betrayal for 30 years, and can’t let it go. As for the Kid, he’s never met the son that resulted from his one night with Sally…. until now.

At times, Grudge Match is a very funny film. Kevin Hart shines brightly as Dante, Jr. (I only wish his character had more screen time. He’s hilarious in damn near every scene he’s in), as does Alan Arkin, who, ever since his Oscar-winning turn in Little Miss Sunshine, has found a niche playing grizzled old men. As for the two stars, DeNiro gets a few laughs on his own (especially when training at a facility owned by old friend Frankie Brite, played by LL Cool J), but the funniest moments occur when they get together to promote the upcoming fight (the skydiving sequence is particularly memorable).

Humor aside, Grudge Match also features quite a bit of drama, which, unfortunately, is where the film falls apart. It’s not that the dramatic moments are bad, per se (though some come a little too close to schmaltz for my taste). It’s just that there’s too much jammed into the movie’s 2-hour run-time. While their age is definitely an issue, each man has his own share of problems as well. Along with having to find Lightning a new place to live, Razor is having troubles at work, and is forced to deal with the past when Sally tries to reconcile with him. There’s even talk of a previous injury that might prevent Razor from fighting. It’s the Kid, however, whose life is really turned upside down. Besides being completely out of shape, his estranged son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) visits him for the first time ever, and even agrees to work as his trainer (though they have very little in common… are you starting to get the picture?). Sally, who loves Razor and absolutely hates Kid, isn’t happy that father and son have reunited, and says so in no uncertain terms. What’s more, Kid finds out he’s also a grandfather, and spends an evening babysitting (with disastrous results). And we haven’t even gotten to the big fight yet (which, as expected, is jam-packed with drama).

Still, I recommend Grudge Match. If nothing else, It’ll make you laugh, and, despite being almost 2 hours long, is never boring. But then, how could it be, with so much going on?

By the way, hang in there during the ending credits; there’s a sequence featuring a couple of former champions that’s pure gold!

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