Down for the Count
Grudge Match is a comedy about boxing that simply lacks punch.
It's been thirty years since Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) were at the pinnacle of the fight game. The pair both held portions of the light-heavyweight boxing crown during that time and fought twice to determine who was the better fighter.
Unfortunately, these clashes left a lot of unanswered questions. Henry took a controversial decision the first time they collided. Billy didn't even bother to train properly for their second clash. A rubber match was arranged and then hastily scrubbed in 1984 when Henry suddenly decided he had his fill of the fight game. Billy's career then took a nose dive which he still blames Henry for til this day.
Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of their late fight promoter, is broke and desperate to make a name for himself. He approaches Henry with an offer he believes the former pugilist can't refuse. All Henry has to do for a guaranteed $15,000 is show up and pretend to box former rival Billy so animators for a video game can get accurate movements of his punching and footwork in the ring. Henry wants no part of this but realizes he can't afford to pay mounting medical bills for Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin),who trained him for the duration of his professional boxing career.
Dante Jr. left out a crucial detail. Billy was also consulted for the video game. In fact, he was told by Dante to arrive two hours after Henry finished to avoid the possibility of an altercation. Eager to confront Henry for torpedoing his career, Billy shows up early and the pair immediately start brawling. When a video of the brawl garners a ton of interest online, it motivates Dante to promote the rubber match between Henry and Billy that should have happened in 1984.
Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman's screenplay seems incredibly thin. None of their characters are fully developed. I never bought Stallone and De Niro as arch enemies harboring a 30-year grudge, let alone as former professional boxers. The film's choreographed fight sequences also look fake.
Alan Arkin, who portrays "Lightning," and Kim Basinger as Henry's ex-girlfriend Sally are better than the material they have to work with. Jon Bernthal gives a convincing performance as B.J. -- Billy's trainer, who needs to get close to him because the former fighter is in fact his biological father.
Boxing fans will no doubt appreciate numerous tongue-in-cheek cameos, including scenes with fight announcer Michael Buffer, HBO boxing commentators, Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant, plus former champion boxer Roy Jones Jr. Former world heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield also show up to poke fun at themselves during the credits.
Director Peter Segal lost control of the picture from the get go. He failed at motivating Stallone and De Niro to craft believable performances. Perhaps viewers should watch De Niro in Raging Bull and Stallone in Rocky instead.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Rated PG-13 by MPAA for sports action violence, sexual content and language.)