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Grudge Match - Review

Grudge Match. © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All rights reserved

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

SYLVESTER Stallone and Robert De Niro have a longer history than many would first guess. For starters, they squared up against each other way back in 1976 when their respective films, Rocky and Taxi Driver went head to head at the Oscars the following year. Stallone won on that occasion.

Then, in 1997, Stallone shared an electric scene with De Niro in the little-seen but excellent crime drama Cop Land. They’re now matching up again in the comedy-drama Grudge Match and, ironically, deliver the weakest entry of their long-term association.

A crowd-pleaser that struggles to work beyond its central gimmick of placing Rocky Balbla and Jake La Motta in the ring, it’s the kind of lightweight fare that would never have even been given the time of day by these two former acting heavyweights back in their prime.

So, it says a lot for their current opportunities, or how far the mighty have fallen, that they are now toplining it now. Worse, it speaks even greater volumes that when taken in the context of more recent material (Bullet To The Head for Stallone or The Family for De Niro) this has to rate as one of their more enjoyable efforts!

The story is simple. A pair of ageing boxing rivals, Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro), are coaxed out of retirement for one final fight 30 years after being deprived of the opportunity to find out who was the greatest by the mystery withdrawal of Sharp.

To add extra spice between them, both love the same woman, Sally (Kim Basinger) – although she clearly has more feelings for Sharp than McDonnen, even though she has a son (Jon Bernthal) with the latter.

Directed by Peter Segal, Grudge Match treads an uneven path between its comedy and drama elements and often comes across as painfully unfunny and hugely over-dramatic. Indeed, fans of both De Niro and Stallone who cringe whenever either decide to poke fun at previously iconic work may well find plenty more to shudder at here (even though a couple of sight gags do work).

But there are moments when the film comes alive. The big fight is worth the wait and is nicely choreographed and suitably (albeit manipulatively) emotional, while Stallone and De Niro trade some nice verbal blows as the animosity between them intensifies.

There are also a couple of decent supporting roles from The Walking Dead‘s Bernthal, Basinger and Alan Arkin as Stallone’s grump trainer, as well as a genuinely crowd-pleasing mid-credits cameo. But Kevin Hart, on the other hand, is painfully bad from start to finish and deserves to have been knocked out of the whole endeavour.

Taken as a whole, Grudge Match is only ever mildly entertaining and clearly punching above its weight given the nature of its ensemble cast. But it just about remains worth seeing on points alone.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 113mins
UK Release Date: January 24, 2014