Rocky vs. Raging Bull! Stallone vs. De Niro, the two stars of two of the greatest films ever made. GRUDGE MATCH is what we get with that very simple premise, in some ways this feels like a lighter version of ROCKY BALBOA, with the washed up old boxers going at it one more time. The whole concept is really a great idea, these two greats together, in a very different setting than their previous film COP LAND. So does this live up to its own hype? Yes and no, this is a film that you can enjoy if you allow yourself to just go with the flow. It isn’t a masterpiece and it never aimed it be, this is a piece that wants it audience to have a good time and this member certainly did.
The plot here is about Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen, two former boxing Champions, who in their day defeated one another but never had the ‘Grudge Match’ to break the tie of 1-1. Now in their 60’s and getting on with life, HBO runs a special about the two men and interest is sparked between them. A gaming company wants to put them in a new boxing game, and both agree to do it but during their meeting fists fly and the 30 years in the making Grudge Match is set. These two have a lot of issues to work out, to get back in shape, lost love and being a parent.
It really is a simple enough story, nothing overly original and for me the real enjoyment of this film came from the cast. Stallone and De Niro clearly had a great time making this film; it was something they both wanted to do much like the characters they play. And like the characters they play, there is a sense of ‘do they still have it’ and yes they really do! The characters themselves aren’t overly complex, McDonnen has an ego and he loves his booze and women. Sharp is a quiet workingman, seemingly satisfied with how things are but money is an issue. They both have their reasons for doing the Grudge Match and their journey in getting there is fun to watch.
They are supported by ‘Lightning’ played by Alan Arkin doing his usual smart and foul-mouthed character, and BJ played by Jon Bernthal the long lost son of The Kid. The chemistry that Arkin shares with Stallone is fantastic and watching these two together is quite a treat! It is a pairing that I would never have guessed would work, but seeing it on screen, it was really great. I also enjoyed the natural chemistry between De Niro and Bernthal, they had a very natural flow together and it was a great piece of casting. Kevin Hart as Dante, the man getting this thing going was pretty good. I enjoyed what he added, there was a point where I thought he could go down into the over the top Chris Tucker thing but he didn’t and kept himself at the right level. Kim Basinger was fine as the woman between the two men, and it’s always good to see her in a solid role.
Sometimes all you need is an entertaining ride that you can relax to, and GRUDGE MATCH is that sort of film. It is neither terrible nor brilliant; it is good and a great Sunday afternoon type of film. Perhaps it wont be remembered six months from now but it definitely has the potential to be the film that goes into a collection and gets pulled out once a year.