Sunday, January 19, 2014

Grudge Match (2013)(Minor Spoilers Review)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers. No major reveals or twists**

In the 1980‘s, two bitter boxing rivals go their separate ways after a series of fights. Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) are locked in a tie after Henry defeats McDonnen in the rematch to even the score, but Sharp suddenly retires before the highly anticipated grudge match.

Thirty years later, McDonnen is the owner of a popular bar and restaurant, and McDonnen also owns a car lot. Sharp is working a job at a shipyard, and he’s running out of money and options to take care of his elderly trainer, Louis “Lighting” Conlon (Alan Arkin).

Sharp is stuck in a dead end life until a promoter named Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) approaches him with a tempting offer. If Sharp participates in a motion capture session for a new boxing video game featuring himself and McDonnen, Sharp will earn a $15, 000 paycheck. But Sharp loses his cool, when McDonnen crashes the session to antagonize him. A video of the brawl between McDonnen and Sharp goes viral on YouTube, and Dante plans a grudge match. McDonnen accepts, because he’s eager to prove his one loss to Sharp was a fluke, but Sharp has no interest in a third match.

Sharp is dead-set on avoiding McDonnen for the rest of his life, but the reemergence of Sharp’s ex-girlfriend changes everything. Sally (Kim Basinger) stirs up some old feelings in Sharp, and Sharp takes some time to reconsider the fight with McDonnen.

Sharp is without a job, and the $15, 000 won’t last long, so he agrees to fight McDonnen in the highly anticipated rematch. Lighting trains Sharp, and McDonnen’s estranged son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal) trains and bonds with his father, so they can make up for years of lost time. Dante dubs the rematch between McDonnen and Sharp as “Grudgement Day,” but the lifelong rivals endure a series of setbacks on the road to the big fight.

Stallone and De Niro share excellent chemistry, as a pair of heated rivals. It’s a rivalry between the humble blue-collar worker (Stallone), who wants to put the past behind him, and the pompous jerk (De Niro) with a big ego, who refuses to move on. Stallone and De Niro deliver a pair of enjoyable performances in Grudge Match, and both men bring out the best in each other, when they’re sharing the screen together.

Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin provide some good comic relief. Arkin is the grizzled boxing trainer, with a combative sense of humor, as the crabby old man. Hart is the loudmouth and obnoxious promoter, and he’s caught up in this fantasy world, as a delusional big shot. Hart and Arkin take second place (Stallone and De Niro are still number one) for feuding duos in Grudge Match, and you’ll see a pair of solid performances from Basinger and Bernthal. And LL Cool J has a role as Frankie here. Frankie is this flashy and egotistical trainer, who  allows McDonnen to train at his popular gym. LL is a believable jerk, and Frankie has a few funny moments with McDonnen during some “low blow” scenes.

Rocky VS Jake LaMotta (or “The Raging Bull”)? Yeah, it’s almost impossible to ignore the connections. De Niro’s portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s timeless classic Raging Bull is one of De Niro’s more famous roles, and he earned a Best Actor Oscar for his performance. And we all know Stallone’s history with Rocky. I’ll tell you this, if you’re expecting some kind of epic boxing match between The Bull and The Italian Stallion in Grudge Match, you should probably watch another boxing film, because this one is not for you.

For the people complaining about the believability and choreography in the final fight between De Niro and Stallone, I have one question: What were you expecting? Sylvester Stallone is sixty-seven years old, and De Niro is seventy. You can’t expect a believable five star classic boxing match, with both men throwing haymakers at each other round after round. It’s not 1980 (the release year for Raging Bull), and Stallone is not shredded from head to toe during his more brutal fights with Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. Stallone said it best as Razor during a scene with Kim Basinger. Sally is begging Razor to back out of the fight, because Razor and Kid are too old and beat up to deliver a quality fight. Razor’s response for effort and the quality of the fight? “It’s the best we’ve got.”

Some will say Grudge Match is too corny, predictable, sappy, and clichéd to enjoy, but I loved every second of this one. Grudge Match should provide tingly feelings of nostalgia for devout De Niro and Stallone fans, because the veterans bring their A-games here. It’s a nice trip down memory lane, featuring some good consistent laughs, and Rocky fans should catch the meat locker wink (just pay close attention to the trailers. It’s not hard to miss it).

If you over-analyze Grudge Match, you'll hate this film. But if you take the time to have some fun without nitpicking every little detail, you’ll enjoy Grudge Match as a nostalgic treat, with two legends squaring off in a once in a lifetime match to remember.

Rating: 6/10

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