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Grudge Match Boxes Ears without Warming Hearts

<i>Grudge Match</i> Boxes Ears without Warming Hearts

DVD Release Date: April 8, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2013
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Genre: Comedy, Sport
Run Time: 113 minutes
Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Jon Bernthal

Back in the day, they were a boxing fan’s dream matchup: Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Sylvester Stallone, Escape Plan) and Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (Robert De Niro, The Family). Each of these bitter rivals had beaten the other just one time; their third meeting was destined to be the stuff of legend... only it never happened. Just before that final bout Razor suddenly announced his retirement, cheating fans out of their much-anticipated championship battle.

But that was thirty years ago. These days Razor works as a laborer at a steel mill and Billy tends to his business empire where his only bouts involve heavy drinking. Then a documentary about their storied rivalry inspires the son of their former fight manager (Kevin Hart, Fool's Gold) to put together a 'grudge match' and finally settle, once and for all, who is the greater fighter. It's a 'classic' (some might say 'tired') battle between a successful jerk (Billy) and a down on his luck nice guy (Razor), but this time the battle is powered by Geritol. The fighters are in it for the money, which could also be the reason so many Oscar winners are in this movie. They certainly weren't attracted by the quality of the script, which is weak, predictable, and full of more cheap shots than a street fight.

Additionally, the "grudge" in the title is all too real: our protagonists hate each other. It could be seen as an object lesson on what happens to people who refuse to forgive. Hint: it’s not pretty. Jealousy, infidelity, revenge... it's all there and all fueling their rivalry.

Viewers of a certain age will enjoy visual nods to Rocky (the first one), Raging Bull, and even Flashdance. After thirty years, both men have some work to do to trim down into fighting shape; the training scenes are some of the best in the film. Product placement is rampant, often played for laughs and mostly at the old guys' expense. All of this could have been a lot of fun were it not for the thick layer of smut coating virtually every scene. De Niro's character is an especially dirty old man; his attitude, language, and actions make it almost a pleasure to watch him get punched in the face.

De Niro and Stallone do an okay job in their respective roles; Stallone was more pleasant to watch, but that could have been because his character was so much more likeable. All that anger and bitterness from both sides of the ring wears a little thin after a while. By the time it finally arrives, the ending is even more predictable than expected. I found it off-putting to watch the stars beat each other to a bloody pulp in slow motion, but it is a boxing movie after all, so I suppose that part is inevitable.

Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) as Razor's old trainer (emphasis on "old") pretty much stole the show any time he was on screen, partly because viewers are waiting to see what inappropriate thing he’ll say next. His exchanges with Hart were especially sharp and beautifully timed, albeit almost always rude and crude. Razor’s long-lost love Sally (Kim Basinger, Charlie St. Cloud), on the other hand, often seemed to speak her lines while thinking about something else. Jon Bernthal (Snitch) has some fairly nice moments, though to avoid spoilers I’ll just say there's nothing particularly outstanding about his role. Boxing fans, meanwhile, will enjoy appearances by some real-life members of the pugilistic world. Those who stick it out through the entire film shouldn't leave before the end of the credits. Some unexpected guests show up in a funny final scene.

And the winner is...? Certainly not the audience. Grudge Match is more appropriate for a late night at the dollar theater than a Christmas Day movie outing.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: There is a lot of drinking and drunkenness, including a scene that includes taking a child to a bar where he’s taught to play quarters by the bartender while women gather around him to drink. One character drinks scotch for breakfast.
  • Language/Profanity: PG-13 isn’t what it used to be. So much of the dialogue is crude (when not downright obscene), it’s a wonder they managed to fit any ‘regular’ English in the script. Jesus’ name used as a curse; characters talk about being screw** over and are pis*** off about it; multiple body part references; hell, SOB, mother-f….(trails off), sh**, bit**; a**, a particularly crude invitation to “crawl back into your mama’s vagina” and telling a character “your mother’s a who**” who “named you after her best trick.” Aside from the sex talk, there are a variety of jokes that racist, ageist, and pretty much equal-opportunity offenders. One man asks another “What was Jesus like?” as a dig about his age.
  • Sex/Nudity: Frequent crude jokes and conversation with references to body parts, hookers, lesbians, and the like, often in front of a child. An extended not-very-funny gag about a how a character’s name (B.J.) also stands for a sexual act; this bit includes a child repeating what he thinks is an innocent phrase. Man and woman shown in their underwear in the back of a car, clearly interrupted in the act (by a child). In a holding cell at a police station a character asks men in an adjoining cell to “rape this guy already” referring to a man on their side of the bars. References to sexual abuse, homosexuality, and more. I didn’t count, but would estimate there are more references to sex than boxing in this movie that’s theoretically about a boxing match. Man shown in underwear for an ad campaign. On several occasions women are shown in skimpy attire, especially at a boxing match where bikini-clad beauties parade around between rounds.
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: Extended fight scenes at regular and slow-motion speeds, both in and out of the ring. Both fighters are bloody messes by the end of the match. A sudden car crash involving major characters is a ‘made you jump’ moment.
  • Spiritual Themes: It’s a testament to what refusing to forgive will do to a person—and it’s not pretty. 

Publication date: December 25, 2013