In the wake of the surprisingly enjoyable Last Vegas comes another movie that reunites older stars in a piece of escapist fluff. Whether or not moviegoers are eager to see Rocky and Raging Bull square off onscreen is another matter. On the plus side, both Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone bring conviction to a silly script (by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman) and play it for all it’s worth. On the minus side, it’s not worth a heck of a lot.
The premise is pretty simple: once upon a time in Pittsburgh, Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) were headlocked in a furious rivalry, in and out of the ring. Just before a decisive bout, Sharp walked away from boxing for good, with no explanation. Now, thirty years later, a would-be entrepreneur (Kevin Hart) sees dollar signs ahead if he can persuade the two men to pick up where they left off and fight their long-delayed grudge match. McDonnen is ready, but Sharp needs to be convinced, because of unfinished business involving his ex-wife (Kim Basinger).
There’s a good reason why De Niro and Stallone are still box-office names at ages 67 and 70, respectively: they have that special quality that defines movie stars. But De Niro in particular deserves better material than this, and so do those of us who enjoy watching him in anything he does. It would be wrong to spend time dissecting such a silly comedy, but I wish the storyline weren’t so patently unbelievable, or developed in such a hackneyed manner. Even casting Alan Arkin as Stallone’s salty manager doesn’t count for much, because both the role and the dialogue are so shopworn.
Undemanding audiences may not complain; the film is capably directed by Peter Segal, and the actors give it life. But Grudge Match is strictly second-rate.