RAPID REVIEWS: GRUDGE MATCH

by thepingofpong

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Hollywood’s first vice is the franchise, a stream of films aping the first in the series while offering fleeting variations of set pieces. A close second is the remake, a mostly scene by scene recreation of an earlier film, released year later.

Films like Jason vs Freddy and Alien vs Predator, mean a third one, a hybrid of aforementioned vices, is budding. Ideally confined to video games and comics, for fans boasting an untested superiority, this third features outsized villains.

Peter Segal’s Grudge Match alters the format by using two recognisably human, if Hollywood kissed, heroes. Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone play Billy McDonnen and Henry Sharp, aged and retired boxers who come back to the ring.

In other words, De Niro reprises his role in “Raging Bull” and Stallone continues his post-Expendable career with an incarnation of “Rocky”.

A series of scenes alert us to the fact of their rivalry. Many years past each won a bout but Stallone’s Sharp retired before a deciding match could be staged. De Niro’s McDonnen has seethed ever since, baying for a decider. When a young fight promoter (Kevin Hart) convinces both to star in a video game and an ensuing squabble gets online, a fight is scheduled.

Their motivations differ: McDonnen wants to know why Sharp cancelled the rematch. And Sharp is broke and caring for an old friend (Alan Arkin, who gets the best lines.) But what would a grudge between two old mean be without a woman? So, the script introduces Sally Rose (Kim Bassinger) a woman with whom both boxers have a history.

Aware of its shamelessness, the film shows it’s in on the joke. De Niro after watching an old commercial featuring a young McDonnen turns to his co-viewers and says, “I never had jock itch, I’m just a great actor.”

“Grudge Match” story skewers in favour of Stallone. His “Rocky” was action; De Niro’s “Raging Bull” was drama. Grudge match is more action than drama. And the acting is invariably measured with both actors neither flailing nor truly pulling weight. Old age and loss are explored but not so much as to obscure the sheer absurdity of two old men not acting their age.

The audience can see this, but may still forgive. That is, as long as both actors don’t make it a habit.

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