Grudge Match Review
Rocky Balboa vs Jake La Motta in high concept hell
It probably sounded like a great idea when someone pitched the concept of a grudge match between an ageing Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta.Unfortunately it takes more than just an idea and if you’re going to follow it through for two hours, you’d better have a decent story and good script. Grudge Match has neither and what you’re left with is the sight of two geriatric legends, who really should know better, entering the ring for a suitably sized purse. Although you have to wonder if either actor actually needs the money but we guess agents can be quite convincing.
The reality is that it wasn’t even a good idea and we doubt that anyone really wanted to see Rocky Balboa fight Jake La Motta. The fact that the cinema was completely empty would seem to confirm that suspicion. After all, the two characters exist in completely different cinematic universes, one is a fictional underdog story and the other brutal portrayal of a flawed human being. They aren’t even in the same weight class.
Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta aren't from the same cinematic universe... in fact they aren't even in the same weight class.
The premise of the film is that two boxers - Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Bily ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (Robert De Niro) - fought a series of title fights in the early 80s. McDonnen won the first and Sharp the second but on the eve of the third and deciding title fight, Sharp suddenly pulled out and quit boxing altogether. Thirty years later McDonnen runs a car dealership and restaurant, whilst Sharp works in a shipyard and the world still wonders who was the best.
Enter Dante Slate, Jr. the son of the promoter of the original fights, who can arrange a nice payday for both boxers if they will perform motion-capture of their classic moves for an upcoming video game. Both agree but Razor stipulates that he doesn’t want to see The Kid because he still hates him. The Kid, who is still angry that Razor pulled out of the fight all those years ago, deliberately turns up early and confronts Razor. The result is the two of them brawling in motion-capture suits and this ludicrous sight is filmed on a camera phone and immediately starts trending on YouTube.
After a period of cajoling from Dante, the two ageing ex-boxers agree to a re-match and so the preparations begin - Razor with his old trainer Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon (Alan Arkin) and The Kid with his son B.J. (Jon Bernthal). To complicate matters there is also a love triangle between the two boxers and Sally, played by Kim Basinger, that also goes back thirty years. What follows are a series of dramatic and comic set-pieces before the inevitable twelve round decider at the end.
The problem is that the film is neither dramatic enough to carry any real emotion, nor funny enough to be a genuine comedy. There’s the odd chuckle here and there but for the majority of the film you just feel as though everyone is going through the motions. It’s probably not a good sign when the two writers come from TV and their best known credit is Two and a Half Men. Perhaps that’s why the film exists in some kind of PG-13 purgatory because a bit more swearing would have definitely improved things. The film is directed by Peter Segal, who is best know for helming a number of Adam Sandler vehicles, which also doesn’t bode well.
Sylvester Stallone has been making some interesting films recently; his Expendables franchise is fun and both Rocky Balboa and John Rambo were better than anyone could have expected. So it's a shame to see him trading off his legacy for the sake of a pay cheque. He also lacks the emotional range to deliver the romantic moments and his scenes with Basinger never really ring true. Still it is nice to see Kim Basinger back on the big screen and she's certainly looking good for her age. As for Alan Arkin, he's his usual reliable self, although he could play the part of Louis in his sleep and probably did.
The real disappointment in all of this is De Niro. It’s hard to remember that he was once a cinematic god, bestriding the seventies like a colossus. He picked up his first Oscar for his supporting role as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II and went on to give further career defining performances in Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter. In 1980 he picked up his second Oscar, this time for his searing portrayal of boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. After that it started to go downhill and whilst there were still great performances, it’s becoming harder and harder to remember that he was once the greatest actor of his generation.
It's getting harder and harder to remember that Robert De Niro was once the greatest actor of his generation.
You certainly couldn’t accuse De Niro of vanity and he has no problem making a complete fool of himself. He also seems quite happy to play a relatively unpleasant character and whilst Stallone still looks good with his shirt off, De Niro should be discouraged from disrobing whenever possible. As this once great actor mugs for the camera time after time, it really does break your heart and being constantly reminded of Raging Bull doesn’t help. De Niro’s cameo in American Hustle shows that he’s still got it but he really should fire his agent.
Grudge Match is a silly idea that's been stretched into a largely unfunny film starring two cinematic legends that really should know better. A points decision rather than the undefeated champion that some may have hoped for, the film swings haymakers left and right but never lands a knockout punch. Throw in the towel before the final bell and don't waste your money.
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