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Film review: GRUDGE MATCH, from Built For Speed

Grudge Match is a boxing comedy featuring Sylvester Stallone and Robert de Niro but cinephiles need not fear some sort of Alien vs Predator trashing of both the Rocky and Raging Bull legacies as both Stallone and De Niro play brand new characters in this film.

Stallone and de Niro are two former champs, Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen respectively who, back in the early 80’s, had a legendary Ali/ Frazier style rivalry which saw them win one bout each against each other.  When their rivalry mysteriously turned to bitter hatred out of the ring, Sharp walked away refusing to fight McDonnen and the third and deciding bout was aborted.  Now, more than 30 years, later Dante Slate Jr (Kevin Hart) the son of Razor and the Kid’s former promoter, decides there might be substantial bucks in the two decrepit pugilists finally settling the score in a one-off bout.  Over the last three decades, though, The Razor’s skills have dulled and the kid has become more Raging Bulk than Raging Bull so the requisite training might just kill them before the bout.

Director Peter Segal, who is best known for middling comedies such as Anger Management and 50 First Dates, has fashioned a surprisingly enjoyable mix of amiable comedy, personal drama and moderately rousing sports film.   He cleverly integrates Stallone and De Niro’s established screen personas into a big-hearted but not overly sentimental story about self-belief and reconciliation.  Given how dire some of Stallone and De Niro’s previous forays into comedy have been (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot or Little Fockers anyone) it’s a huge relief to see them delivering laughs without demeaning themselves. 

Stallone, looking remarkably fit for a man past 60, plays The Razor with admirable restraint making him a quiet, decent and genuinely likeable guy much like Rocky.  De Niro, by contrast, brings a wonderful leering arrogance to the role of Razor’s rich guy nemesis Kid McDonnen.  Body doubles, slick editing and possibly cgi aside, it looks as if Stallone and de Niro did some serious physical work in the training montages.  These sequences also include a few gentle and amusing digs at iconic images from the Rocky movies such as the raw egg guzzling and meat punching scenes.

In addition to the two leads, the ever-reliable Alan Arkin is terrific as The Razor’s irascible trainer, Louis “lightning” Conlon.  Kim Basinger also appears in a slightly clichéd but still effective role as the woman who came between the two fighters.  Jon Bernthal who plays McDonnen’s son and trainer B.J. delivers a solid performance  despite his character name being used for cheap laughs. MMA fans will also be amused by a cameo from UFC bad boy Chael Sonnen.

Some of the comedy falls flat and the boxing scenes are not the most convincing ever filmed but the charisma of the two leads is undeniable and with the film gives them plenty of space to parade the much loved idiosyncrasies, Grudge Match is, in more ways than one, an enjoyable two hander.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Comedy/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Peter Segal.

Release date: 30th Jan 2014

Running time: 113 mins.

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