It’s Rocky v (Raging) Bullwrinkled as Stallone and De Niro face off in Grudge Match (2013) Review

Grudge Match

“Grudge Match” is pretty much the film you probably think it is. If you approach it with that in mind, the chances are you’ll have a good time with it.

More of a comedy drama than the out and out comedy the trailers suggest, it’s a solidly put together but gentle exploration of aging, regret and holding on to the past, tone-wise it sits much more easily against the “Rocky” films than it does “Raging Bull” but it cheekily uses archive shots from both of them to build its backstory.

Stallone plays Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp who abruptly called time on his boxing career when it was nearing its height. This enraged his rival, Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (Robert De Niro) as they had fought twice with each of them winning one of the bouts and Razor’s retirement robbed him of his chance to break the tie. Fast forward to the present day and while McDonnen is living well off his past glories and various businesses, Sharp has fallen on hard times after being swindled by his manager. Tempted by an easy pay day to film some motion capture for a forthcoming boxing game, Sharp is unwillingly brought face to face with McDonnen for the first time in thirty years. When the resulting scuffle goes viral, it gives wannabe fight promoter Dante Slate Jr (Kevin Hart) an idea…

There’s an undeniable appeal to seeing DeNiro and Stallone, two ageing cinematic warhorses, climb back into the ring for another couple of rounds, and they have good chemistry as the bitter rivals. Looking at their careers since the mid-90s, it’s hard to tell which of them has appeared in the most bad movies so they’re definitely evenly matched. Kim Basinger is a sympathetic presence as Razor’s ex-girlfriend who also has a connection to McDonnen while John Bernthal sticks close to his ‘Walking Dead’ character comfort zone as McDonnen’s estranged son. The stand out performance, though, is from a crotchety Alan Arkin as ‘Lightning’ Conlon, Razor’s former trainer who he coaxes out of retirement, who is on hand throughout the film to puncture any maudlin moments or geriatric machismo with an acerbic and finely-honed putdown.

Director Peter Segal manages to recreate the feel of the classic eighties movies – there’s even a cute, smart mouth kid (Camden Gray) – the stars of “Grudge Match” made their names in, which lends the film a nostalgic lustre. There’s nothing original here, and it may rely a little too much on tried and tested movie clichés and the past movie successes of its leads but it’s an entertaining and sentimental call back to the glory days. And who’s really going to begrudge Stallone or DeNiro that?

Score 6