It would only seem natural to assume that Grudge Match is some kind of “Rocky v. Raging Bull” spinoff, but there’s nothing to indicate that it is. Sure, there’s some potshots at both films, but Grudge Match positions itself as more of a light-hearted comedy that fully understands the ridiculousness of having two near-seventy-year-olds settle a thirty year grudge in the ring. Thanks to a stellar cast and some great one-liners, the film is a funny, albeit completely disposable, time at the movies.
Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro play Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, respectively. They were the two best boxers in their day, splitting two epic fights and set up for a third. Razor ended up pulling out of the third bout, leaving the score unsettled. Thirty years later the two are still bitter enemies. After cell-phone recorded video of the two scrapping goes viral, down-and-out boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Hart) sees an opportunity: Have the two battle it out now.
Filled with machine gun one-liners, of which many hit the mark, and energetic, entertaining performances, Grudge Match keeps chugging even when some of the subplots aren’t very engaging. Kim Basinger turns up as the woman that came between Razor and Kid years earlier, though the chemistry with both seems off. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin both garner copious laughs, especially when they’re exchanging barbs. That Hart can be as motor-mouthed as Chris Tucker, yet be so much less annoying, is truly remarkable. Arkin’s act is getting a bit old and the screenplay comes very close to over-using him, but his dry delivery is superb and enlivens otherwise standard-issue old person humor.
Grudge Match makes for a good Christmas diversion as we’re still in the heat of Oscar season. It’s a fairly harmless, topical crowd-pleaser with a nice cast and a fun “what if” premise. There are some entertaining winks to Rocky and the ending isn’t quite as obvious as you might expect. You could do a whole lot worse on a cold December afternoon.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language.
Theatrical Release: December 25, 2013
Directed by: Peter Segal
Written by: Tim Kelleher & Rodney Rothman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin