Grudge Match is a sort of Punchy Old Men, a slow-footed high-concept comedy that pairs up the screens greatest pugilists, circa 1981, for a few slaps and a few laughs.
Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone square off as aged boxers brought back by desperation and a desperate fight promoter, played by Kevin Hart. Hart slows his roll to match his two leads and the sluggish film around them, where every punch, every gag and most performances are played at half speed.
Henry Razor Sharp (Stallone) and Billy The Kid McDonnen (De Niro) were light heavyweights who had unfinished business in the 80s. Razor walked away from a decisive third fight after each had taken out the other once in their rivalry.
Kid, a boozing braggart, never forgave Razor. He drinks and does a Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) sort of stand-up act in his bar, where he gets to live the ex-jocks dream in their hometown of Pittsburgh.
Razor went broke, went to work in a steel mill and never got over the woman who came between them (Kim Basinger).
Then the son (Hart) of the promoter who ripped them off back in the day cons them into doing some video-game motion-capture work, reviving their rivalry for a few bucks. That could lead to Kardashian sex-tape money if he can get the two 60-somethings who hate each other back in the ring.
Grudge borrows a few plot points from Stallones Rocky Balboa back in 2006, with a viral video of the guys mixing it up at the video game recording studio, putting them back in the news.
Alan Arkin is the foul-mouthed old man whom Razor wants to train him. Kid cant convince anybody that the fight is anything but a joke, so his newly discovered adult son (Jon Bernthal) takes that gig for him.
Theres a comforting were not dead yet message to this, especially in the inevitable training sequences. Stallone, who has battled age with the sorts of treatments that turn your face into scrap iron, looks rough, even if he can still carry the bulk. But De Niro, who has been playing old men for 20 years, looks a decade younger, jumping rope, hitting the bag, doing pull-ups.
Its a shame the banter isnt sharper, that the whole thing wasnt played at motor-mouthed Harts normal speed. His zingers lack the pop and the frequency that he delivers in most comedies. For many scenes, hes interacting with a phone. Hes not even on the set with the stars.
Stallone was never the most graceful with a line, mumbling, struggling to get the funny to pop out. But hes convincingly tough. And he makes the Rocky references work. Handed a glass full of raw eggs to knock down, he cracks Fighters still do this? Looks like a lotta cholesterol.
A few one-liners, a feeble touch of romance with Basinger (three Oscar winners are in this cast), a smart-mouthed kid as formulas go, this one feels gassed.
Its all very much in the style of director Peter ( Get Smart) Segal slow, sentimental, slick and sadly recycled. But its perfectly passable holiday entertainment for people who dated during the Rocky and Raging Bull era. Just dont expect this Grudge Match to be much of a challenge.