Judge Michael Nazarewycz thinks all sciences, not just the sweet science, should have ring card girls.
A battle of the ages.
As much as Hollywood loves its leading ladies young, it certainly doesn't mind its action heroes old. In the last few years, Hollywood has been attempting to mount an '80 Action Hero Renaissance. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, two of the titans of the decade-defining genre (and genre-defining decade), has each made his own recent solo actioners, and the two teamed up for 2013's Escape Plan. Stallone has truly led the charge, cashing in on his macho '80s persona as the driving force—before and behind the camera—of The Expendables franchise. Still, Stallone isn't just known for shoot-'em-up/blow-'em-ups; he's also famously known as legendary fictional boxer Rocky Balboa. With all of this nostalgia for tough old men getting tough again, it's no surprise Stallone is back in the ring. His opponent? Well, speaking of old actors who have played legendary boxers: Hello, Jake LaMotta.
Facts of the Case
In the 1980s, Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone, First Blood) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro, The Untouchables) were fierce competitors in the boxing ring and engaged in two epic battles against each other. The first victory went to The Kid, while Razor redeemed himself for the equalizer. A third bout, their grudge match, never happened because Razor abruptly retired from boxing.
Fast-forward to today, and the boxers—both in their sixties—are living very different lives. Razor is practically broke, having lost his boxing fortune to bad investments and trusting the wrong people. He works labor at a steel mill, with any extra money going to pay for the assisted living facility where his old trainer, Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin, Argo), is living his golden years. The Kid, on the other hand, is living a nicer existence, having nabbed endorsement deals, made shrewd investments, and cashed in on his local celebrity, too. He has no one to care for but himself.
Both men are approached by Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart, Ride Along), son of the deceased Don King-like promoter who helped promote the boxers in their prime. Dante Jr. wants the boxers to participate in the development of a new boxing video game. Razor needs the money, and The Kid wants any kind of third shot at Razor. Before you know it, thought, the bitter enemies are squaring off at the video game company—all of which is captured for YouTube. The public demand to see the men get in the ring is too great to ignore (as is the purse), and they both sign on for "Grudgement Day."
Hook. Premise. Film. You can trip over the first two. It's what you do with the third that counts.
• Hook: For about the first five minutes, you are enamored by the fact that Raging Bull's Jake LaMotta and Rocky's Rocky Balboa—two legendary cinematic boxers—are destined to square off in the ring. It's a fantasy league moment.
• Premise: Once the hook gets you, you have another 10 minutes to be entertained by the notion that a couple of old guys—especially old-time Hollywood legends—are going to duke it out.
• Film: Where do you go from here? This is ultimately the problem director Peter Segal (50 First Dates) faces with Grudge Match: it seizes on a fantastic hook but it clings too much to its premise. Once the novelty of that wears off, it doesn't know what to do. The most frustrating part is that the film doesn't fail at being inadequate, it actually struggles to do too much.
Let me get this out of the way: Grudge Match is an unfunny comedy. Yes, it has its moments, and those come from (no surprise) cagey veteran Arkin and hot newcomer Hart. But this isn't the Arkin and Hart Show, it's the Stallone and De Niro Show, and the lines the tough guys are made to deliver are nothing more than stingless zingers about age and weight, endlessly recited like some flat Don Rickles-off. Open Mic Night never sounded so bad. (Full disclosure: I find the phrase "Grudgement Day" quite funny because it actually sounds like something a boxing promoter—or HBO—would coin.)
Normally, an unfunny comedy, especially one that runs about 20 minutes too long, would be arduous to sit through, and being unfunny (and long) contributes to the film's problems. However, Grudge Match also has threads of drama woven through it that keep things pretty interesting until the sum of them becomes overbearing atop a flimsy comic foundation.
In the corner to my left, struggling with employment woes and trying to support Lightning, is Razor. The man has a permanent dark cloud over his head borne of the regret of never having reconciled with why he left boxing so suddenly and mysteriously thirty years prior. He struggles mightily even to participate in the video game portion, let alone engage in a match, and only the money makes him do it. Razor also has an ex-girlfriend, Sally (Kim Basinger, Batman), who walks back into his life when the story breaks that he and The Kid will fight again.
In the corner to my right is The Kid, whose past is haunting him, too. Not only has he never had the resolution to his desire to know if he was better than Razor, he also has a past with Sally. That past includes a son he knew he had but never knew. That son, B.J. (John Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street), introduces himself to The Kid and begins a relationship with his long-lost father. B.J. has a young son of his own, making The Kid an instant grandfather on top of everything else. The Kid also has an uneasy relationship with Frankie Brite (LL Cool J, Any Given Sunday), a gym owner and trainer who thinks he's too good for the old man who once helped his father, but whose song changes as The Kid becomes a media darling.
There is also a surprise medical twist that impacts one of the characters in the film. No spoilers here.
That's a lot of stuff to cram into a film that is already too preoccupied with making fart jokes and filming training montages. It's too bad, too. There is enough going on in the lives of the two leads, and there is enough overlap in their lives to envelope the supporting cast, that a pretty damn good sports drama could have been made, but one that is salted with the occasional funny line from Arkin and Hart. Instead, the laughs—make that the attempts at getting laughs—cheaply and constantly get in the way of the film's greater potential.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, Warner Home Video's transfer is mostly clear, with occasional washout occurring with bright backlighting. Dimmer settings, particularly those in the bar The Kid owns, are sharp. The visual real treat comes near the end of the film, during the climactic bout. The Blu-ray transfer during this portion of the film is wonderfully vibrant and puts you ringside. The same can be said for the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which presents competing sounds during the big fight scene, as well as smaller training sequences, very well.
In addition to standard def DVD and Ultraviolet HD downloaded copies of the film, there is a wealth of bonus material on the Grudge Match (Blu-ray). Note: There are spoilers within the trailers.
• Behind the Scenes: The Bull & The Stallion offers a
14-minute look at the making of the film, with a breakdown of how the final
fight sequence was shot. Among other interesting tidbits of information:
Stallone choreographed the film's boxing action.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When he's not trying to crack wise or sing the National Anthem (really), Stallone is quite good and carries regret well. As for his character's reason for dropping out of boxing, it has a surprising depth to it. Don't get me wrong—it isn't Shakespeare. However, it's deeper than I expected given the overall tone of the film. In the other column, they exploit The Kid's grandson a little bit.
As I find myself saying with these big-name, high-concept films, if you are a completist (in this case of Stallone, De Niro, Hart, or boxing films), Grudge Match is an okay addition to your collection. If you aren't a completist, this is certainly worth a rental. Just be sure to approach this not as a comedy, but as a drama with bad humor.
Not guilty by split decision.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Alternate Opening/Endings
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