De Niro's career in the aughts has gone dangerously close to Marlon Brando's late-career arc, which was hard to watch ("The Island of Dr. Moreau," "Don Juan DeMarco," "The Brave" which never even came out). There have been too many "Meet the Parents," "Analyze That" and "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" roles and not enough turns like "The Good Shepherd" (which he directed) or well, "Silver Linings Playbook." Everything else has felt like a paycheck gig or film that never felt terribly inspired. In short, the choices were enough to make you worry.
So on the eve of possibly winning an Oscar, a set photo – via New Orleans Hornets' Robin Lopez's Twitter account of all people – has surfaced with De Niro and co-star Sylvester Stallone on the set of the boxing film, "Grudge Match." But don't expect "Raging Bull" meets "Rocky" (which would actually be better than what's in store). This is a, gulp, boxing comedy about a pair of aging rival pugilists who are coaxed out of retirement for one final bout – 50 years after their last match. More frightening: it's directed by Peter Segal, the filmmaker behind such classics like "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" and "Anger Management." It's the kind of thing we've become used to seeing these days from De Niro, sadly, and a sign that the conventional wisdom believing his career might be back on track thanks to 'Playbook' is a touch optimistic.
Sure, every actor needs to keep it light, but De Niro's had a whole decade of these forgettable films and starring opposite the meathead hack Stallone, it just feels like a career nadir. We'll see if De Niro is down for the KO when "Grudge Match" opens on November 15th.