MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Robert De Niro as BILLY “THE KID” MCDONNEN
Sylvester Stallone as HENRY “RAZOR” SHARP
Kevin Hart as DANTE SLATE, JR.
Alan Arkin as LIGHTNING
Kim Basinger as SALLY ROSE
Jon Bernthal as B.J.
Joey Diaz as MIKEY
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Peter Segal
BY KEVIN CARR
As a child of the 80s, I immediately recognized the nostalgia factor in a movie like “Grudge Match.” After all, both Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro had high-profile boxing movies in the 80s (the “Rocky” series for Stallone and “Raging Bull” for De Niro). Even though these two shared the screen in “Cop Land” more than a dozen years ago, it was a cool concept to get them to step in the ring together.
Additionally, Stallone has been making a name for himself recently as an aged action star. He’s had some hits (with the “Expendables” films) as well as some misses (including “Bullet to the Head” and later “Escape Plan” with fellow 80s action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger). However, the big twist in “Grudge Match” is that he actually allows his age to show a bit, and that helps the movie along.
The story follows two boxers: Bill “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) who were at the top of their game in the 80s. They faced each other in the ring twice, with each boxer winning one bout. However, before they could fight a tie-breaker, Sharp retired from boxing, leaving the final question as to who was the best up in the air forever.
Now, 35 years since their last battle, they have another chance to face each other in the ring. With the help of fast-talking boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), the old rivals agree to fight once again. However, not only do they need to get themselves in shape physically, they both have to take care of personal business with their families and relationships.
While this film has a gritty feel to it that you’ll find in any boxing movie that values the sweat of the gym over the sleek feeling of a fitness club, it’s still a generally light-hearted film. Director Peter Segal juggles a lot in this movie, with both Stallone and De Niro fighting for the spotlight. It’s neither of their movie, and for the most part, the attention is split fairly.
While the excitement to see these two face off in the ring may have waned a bit from the actors’ heyday, it’s still fun to watch for someone like me who grew up with these two defining the tough guy roles in movies.
Kevin Hart’s presence in the film rings of stunt casting as the producers were likely wanting to glom onto his good fortune in comedies and stand-up specials lately. It didn’t fool anyone in the film’s theatrical release, but that’s not to say that Hart’s bad for the film. He provides some young, hip comic relief, and even if there’s a bit too much of his shtick jarring the audience out of the film, he works in the final product.
The real problem with the film comes in the middle, where the story tries to tackle some real heavy issues. The movie gets unnecessarily dark at one point, really taking the characters to some heavy places. This might have worked in a movie with a lighter tone overall, but considering the grittier nature of boxing films in general, this brought the movie down quite a bit from the feel-good nature it had going on.
Still, as someone who grew up with these movie stars, it could be a lot worse. If you’re from my generation, it’s worth checking out for the nostalgia factor, even if much of the tone and self-referential nature of the film will be lost on the younger generation.
The Blu-ray comes with some shorter special features. In addition to a making-of featurette, there’s two spotlights on Kevin Hart’s character and performance. There’s also a look back at heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who defeated Muhammad Ali, as well as some in-character commentary by Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The bonus features are rounded out with some deleted scenes, an alternate opening and two alternate endings, which were shot in case test audience rioted.
The package also contains a DVD of the film and a digital download via UltraViolet.