grudge-match

There comes a time in every old man’s life when he has to ask himself, “Did I do everything I was supposed to do? Do I have regrets?” And if the answer is a resounding “yes,” then he has to take a step back and figure out how to make things better before time runs out. The premise of Peter Segal’s Grudge Match is not so much that former prize fighters Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) are wasting away in their golden years dreaming about their past; it’s that if they had fought on that fateful day 30 years ago, it could have saved them a hell of a lot of trouble come the present day.

In the eighties, The Kid and Razor were rivals and fan favorites in the lightweight division in the Philly boxing circuit. They were mere moments away from a legendary, career-making title fight when Razor suddenly withdrew from the battle without telling anyone his reasons; effectively ending his and Kid’s boxing careers in one day. Since then, Razor has made a humble life for himself working at a steel mill and never talking about boxing ever again. Kid took a different route, milking his fame for all it was worth and turning it into a boxing-themed restaurant and endorsement deals. Life is cushy.

Razor is forced to confront his past when he needs money to pay for his former coach and father figure’s (Alan Arkin, wonderfully cranky) assisted living care. After brawling with Kid at a video game shoot, the viral video sparks a sensation – people want to see their final fight, and they will pay handsomely to make it happen.

The bulk of the film centers on their training for the fight, which gleefully plays on Stallone and De Niro’s old boxing days. In case you’ve forgotten, these are the former Rocky Balboa and Jake Lamotta we’re dealing with here. Razor runs through junkyards, lifts tires and pulls cars to get into shape; at one point he’s about to start punching meat at a butcher’s shop when his coach tells him they’re simply there to pick up dinner. Kid takes a more high-class approach to his training, opting to sweat it out at a local boxing gym where he’s taken under the wing of a young trainer who looks an awful lot like him; turns out, Kid had a son (Jon Bernthal) about thirty years ago.

While their training sequences pay homage to their former boxing glory, it’s not beaten (sorry) into the ground as much as it could be – and that is a merciful thing. Instead, it’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to some of their greatest work, and a new film that proves that they can still spar and spat (almost) as well as in their heydays.

Another positive: the surprising lack of crazy old man jokes. Don’t get it wrong, this film is rife with cracks about how positively ancient the two main men are, and how they shouldn’t be in the ring, but those remarks are all coming from jerks; at its core, the film treats its leads with respect and acknowledges that maybe these two can make it through the final fight without croaking.

As for that final fight, it’s pretty much what you would expect two men in their sixties boxing to look like. It’s bloody, brutal and a bit nauseating; but there’s a clear winner and the redemption the rivals had been looking for since the beginning of the film. Boxing experts might be better suited to weigh in on how well the fight was choreographed and executed, but it seemed convincing enough to be effective.

As for the main men, Stallone does his Stallone-iest, mumbling his lines and vaguely emoting for the camera, but none of this is necessarily a bad thing; it’s the Stallone we’ve all come to know and love. De Niro is clearly enjoying himself as he gets to drink like a fish, wear a sequined robe and have sex in the back of an escalade with a 25-year-old. He’s hammy, and he knows it. What else is he supposed to do?

Overall, the film is a feel-good comedy that does what it’s supposed to do: give us another shot at Rocky Balboa and Jake Lamotta. If you can stomach your beloved prizefighters served with a plate of cheesy dad jokes, then it’ll suit you just fine.