Occasionally, you will come across a movie that strikes you in such a way that you will love it no matter how much people think you’re nuts. “Grudge Match” is that movie.
A film that pairs heavy hitters Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone with the larger-than-life comedy of Kevin Hart and the irascible wit of Alan Arkin, it mixes up boxing, revenge and salty one-liners that should satisfy audiences of every generation.
Blending elements of “Rocky” and “Grumpy Old Men,” this crowd-pleaser follows two fighters past their prime who return to the boxing ring for one last showdown.
Directed by Peter Segal (“Get Smart,” “The Longest Yard”) De Niro and Stallone play Billy “The Kid” McDonnen and Henry “Razor” Sharp, two local Pittsburgh fighters whose fierce rivalry put them in the national spotlight in the late ‘70s. Each had scored a victory against the other during their heyday, but in 1983, on the eve of their decisive third match, Razor suddenly announced his retirement, refusing to explain why, but effectively delivering a knock-out punch to both their careers. Thirty years later, boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), seeing big dollar signs, makes them an offer they can’t refuse: to re-enter the ring and settle the score once and for all. But on their first encounter, their long-festering feud erupts into an unintentionally hilarious melee that instantly goes viral. The sudden social media frenzy transforms their local grudge match into a must-see HBO event. Now, if they can just survive the intense training, they may actually live to fight again.
Screenwriter Tim Kelleher came up with the idea for the movie after thinking about the almost-was 1999 heavyweight match between Larry Holmes and George Foreman, when both were 50 years old. Although the fight never came to pass, Kelleher says he couldn’t help but think of all the great fighters who were retired, but would love to box again if given a chance. It didn’t take long for the names Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone to come up. The notion of two cinema boxing icons—Jake LaMotta, aka “Raging Bull,” versus “Rocky Balboa”— became the highly anticipated match-up at the top of everyone’s boxing card.
De Niro and Stallone have previously starred in the 1997 ensemble crime thriller “Copland,” but placing these two legendary actors in a comedy set in the world of boxing equals comedic magic.
“Grudge Match” has its share of both bruises and laughs and it’s worth staying well past the credits for there’s a neat setup for a possible sequel which is bound to be equally as funny.
With supporting cast members that include Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Argo”) as Razor’s former trainer, who, now in his 80s, has to put Razor through his paces again, Kim Basinger (“L.A. Confidential”) as Sally Rose, who was once the love of Razor’s life and is a partial reason for their feud, LL Cool J as the owner of the Killshot Gym, rounding out the cast is Jon Bernthal as BJ, The Kid’s trainer.
A well-written comedy with plenty of star appeal, Segal has done a solid job in building the audience’s interest. He gets amiable performances out of his leads with the iconic pairing of De Niro and Stallone, and lots of colorful moments from supporting players.
The heart of the movie is a series of brutal and hilarious ring confrontations. There is plenty of good-natured bickering as it jabs away with jokes and some really funny dialogue especially delivered by Arkin and Hart.
It is Hart’s character, Dante Slate, Jr., who is the catalyst that sets the story into motion. He is perfect as the fast-talking son of the flamboyant, late boxing promoter Dante Slate, Sr. He didn’t inherit any money from his father, but he did inherit his famous name and hustling instincts, and is determined to bring the geriatric boxers back in the ring for a payday by any means necessary.
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