Grudge Match (Warner Brothers, PG-13)

grudge 75Sylvester Stallone’s rival is Robert De Niro, which sets this up as a pseudo crossover of Rocky and Raging Bull, a concept which would seem less ridiculous if there had never been any Rocky sequels.

 

 

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For a long time, I completely wrote off the Rocky movies. I thought they were stupid and never felt the need to watch them. When Sylvester Stallone announced that he was making a sixth film, I laughed along with everybody else. And then that trailer came out. I saw that trailer in front of many movies in 2006, and the audience reacted the same way every time. It started with giggles and scoffing, but as it went on, people got quiet, and when it ended, everyone turned to their friends and the theater was full of the sound of excited whispers. I watched every Rocky film in anticipation of Rocky Balboa and came out a pretty big fan. It taught me never to write off Stallone, because underneath all that muscle and that slurred speech pattern is an incredibly talented guy who can really deliver, especially when he’s down.

Cut to the present, and we have Grudge Match, a movie with almost the exact same premise as Rocky Balboa: An old boxer returns to the ring based on the popularity of a computer simulation. Only this time, he isn’t fighting the young, current heavyweight champion, but rather his old rival, who never got the satisfaction of a final match. This change actually makes the story a bit more realistic, which is the only time I will say that in this entire review. Whereas Rocky Balboa returned to the real, gritty, human drama of the original Rocky, Grudge Match is a complete farce.

Stallone’s rival is Robert De Niro, which sets this up as a pseudo crossover of Rocky and Raging Bull, a concept which would seem less ridiculous if there had never been any Rocky sequels. Of course, De Niro can’t riff on his Jake Lamotta character, because then no one would like him at all. Stallone is clearly the hero and we’re on his side, but the film asks us to like both of these guys.

They are brought together by Kevin Hart, who is trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, a great fight promoter. I’ve never seen Hart in anything besides his small role in This is the End. He’s funny and likable, and I can see why he’s so popular, but he almost seems to take the movie over. His character is indicative of the movie’s focus. Director Peter Segal is a comedy guy, and Grudge Match is first and foremost a comedy. Once I realized this, it was easier to go along for the ride, even though it wasn’t really what I expected or wanted.

One thing I love about the Rocky movies is that they are very earnest and heartfelt—even the bad ones. The characters in Rocky Balboa all saw Rocky’s comeback as a joke, but the movie never looked at it that way; it treated its characters with respect and dignity. Grudge Match doesn’t. The fanfare for this fight is mostly driven by videos of the two stars going viral among young people who find old guys fighting hilarious. The movie is aimed at those same people. The final fight obviously ends up better than expected, but the humor of the situation is still front and center. In general, none of the dramatic stuff works. Stallone reconnects with an old love interest and De Niro tries to bond with his estranged son, but these subplots feel cheesy and unearned. At the end of the day, it’s all about the jokes.

My audience laughed loudly and often at Grudge Match. I didn’t laugh that much, but I chuckled a few times and I frequently smiled. It goes down pretty easy; there’s just nothing that really makes it recommendable, especially now when there are so many great films out that people could go see instead. Grudge Match opens on Christmas Day, but it feels more like a disposable January release. | Sean Lass

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