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"GRUDGE MATCH"
(2013) (Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: Two champion boxers return to the ring three decades after their last bout to determine who's the best as well as release their frustrations and gripes about each other.
PLOT:
Back in the 1980s, Henry "Razor" Sharp (SYLVESTER STALLONE) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (ROBERT DE NIRO) were the champions of the light heavyweight boxing world. But after splitting their two bouts, Henry abruptly retired, leaving the status of who was the best undetermined. Since then, Henry has returned to the Pittsburg mill where he worked before becoming famous, while Billy has opened a car dealership along with a restaurant and dinner club. They're brought back into the boxing world when Dante Slate, Jr. (KEVIN HART), the son of the notorious promoter who put on their former matches, wants to hire the two boxers for a day's worth of work creating video game representations of themselves.

The two men immediately clash once more, with their in-studio fisticuffs being posted online and immediately going viral. As a result, Dante manages to milk that into calls for an actual rematch between the two. Billy is all for it, while Henry is initially reluctant, but eventually agrees. Someone who's against the idea is Sally (KIM BASINGER), Henry's former girlfriend who cheated on him back in the '80s with Billy, resulting in B.J. (JON BERNTHAL) being born. He's now a college strength conditioning coach with a son of his own, Trey (CAMDEN GRAY), and initially wants nothing to do with the father he's only just met.

But since Billy can't get boxing trainer Frankie Brite (LL COOL J) to condition him, Billy convinces B.J. to sign up for the job. At the same time, Henry recruits his former trainer, Louis "Lightning" Conlon (ALAN ARKIN), from the nursing home where he lives to be his corner man. With the day of the big fight approaching, the two older boxers try to get back in shape, all while dealing with issues that have left thirty years of animosity between them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
The 1966 song "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" was all about men's contributions to the world, but in the arena of sports, the more apropos lyric would be "It's a Young, Young, Young Man's World." After all, while some golfers manage to find success at an older age, Jimmy Connors was considered "old" when he made the U.S. Open semifinals at the age of 39. George Blanda was considered "ancient" when he retired from the NFL at 48. That's the same age when George Foreman ended his second round of professional boxing.

Simply put, and with only a few exceptions, youth is king in sports as older bodies simply can't compete against younger ones. But what if you're talking two older bodies going toe-to-toe in the spirit of competition? That's the gist of "Grudge Match," a dramedy about two former light heavyweight boxing champions who return to the ring three decades after their last bout to finally determine which is the better of the two.

Of course, getting two older performers who could make us believe they were once boxing champions AND could feasibly return to the ring (something even more far-fetched than Eastwood, Jones and Garner playing old NASA astronauts returning to active duty in "Space Cowboys") would be a challenge for director Peter Segal ("Get Smart," "50 First Dates") and his casting director, Roger Mussenden. What they came up with was something of a high concept coup which we'll let our ring announcer introduce:

In one corner, weighing in around 180 or so pounds, former box office champion, 67-year-old Sylvester "The Italian Stallion" Stallone who was 30 when he played Rocky Balboa in "Rocky" (a role that earned him an Oscar nomination). In the opposite corner, weighing in at some pounds lighter, two-time Oscar champion, 70-year-old Robert "You Looking at Me?" De Niro who was 37 when he played the real-life Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull" (for which he won one of those Academy awards).

While the years away from the sport pretty closely match up for De Niro ("Raging Bull" coming out in 1980, whereas the last fictitious bout between the leads here occurred just a few years later), Stallone is no stranger to movies about the sport, having played his best known character six times, the last being in 2006's "Rocky Balboa." Although the second through sixth installments ranged from okay to bad, the original flick was excellent, which also holds true for De Niro's lone entry in the genre. Could it be possible lightning could strike a third time?

Nah, I was just yanking your chain as that's obviously never the goal of Segal, his players or the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman from which they work. Sure, there are some serious moments scattered here and there, namely that revolving around Kim Basinger playing a woman who was dating Stallone's character back in the '80s but got knocked up by De Niro's, thus generating much of the animosity between the two fighters that's lingered to today. And there's a related bit about Jon Bernthal playing the resultant offspring who ends up back in his biological father's world.

But just when the flick appears it's trying to be something a bit deeper than its high concept facade, it throws in repeated jokes about that guy's name, B.J." and what it sounds like from an adult perspective, some of that including the man's young son (Camden Gray) who doesn't understand the term, thus resulting in some off-color humor. There's also Kevin Hart playing a fast-talking hustler and boxing promoter who comes off portrayed as if he belongs in another film altogether, while Alan Arkin plays a former trainer pulled out of retirement -- and a nursing home -- to take up where he left off.

Not surprisingly, and considering the ages of the stars, one immediately senses the old person jokes are being cued up. And they do indeed arrive, including the older men reacting to the aches and pains of going through the similarly to-be-expected training montages. Viewers around their age and older might enjoy seeing the performers go through those aches and pains as well as success getting back into shape. But most of the related material -- as well as the rest of the film for that matter -- isn't as clever or smart as it clearly needed to be and likely could have been.

By the time the big concluding fight commenced, I didn't really care who won or even if the two characters would manage to make it into the ring. Like the sport itself, boxing movies had their heyday long ago, and this attempt to rekindle that comes off quite in line with any real-life boxer thinking he can get back in despite being decades past his prime. It's not a good idea, a sentiment that applies to this flick. "Grumpy Old Boxers," uh, "Grudge Match" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 17, 2013 / Posted December 25, 2013


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