“Grudge Match” is a sort of “Punchy Old Men,” a slow-footed high-concept comedy that pairs the screen’s greatest pugilists, circa 1981, for a few slaps and a few laughs.
Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone square off as aged boxers brought back by desperation and a desperate fight promoter, played by Kevin Hart. Hart slows his roll to match his two leads and the sluggish film around them, where everything is played at half-speed.
Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) were light heavyweights who had unfinished business in the 1980s. Razor walked away from a decisive third fight after each had taken out the other once in their rivalry.
Kid, a boozing braggart, never forgave Razor. He drinks and does a Jake LaMotta (“Raging Bull”) sort of stand-up act in his bar, where he gets to live the ex-jock’s dream in their hometown of Pittsburgh.
Razor went broke, went to work in a steel mill and never got over the woman who came between them (Kim Basinger).
Then the son (Hart) of the promoter who ripped them off back in the day cons them into doing some video-game motion-capture work, reviving their rivalry for a few bucks.
Alan Arkin is the foul-mouthed old man Razor wants to train him. Kid can’t convince anybody that the fight is anything but a joke, so his newly discovered adult son (Jon Bernthal) takes that gig for him.
Let the countdown to “Grudgement Day” begin.
There’s a comforting “we’re not dead yet” message to this, especially in the inevitable training sequences. Stallone, who has battled age with the sorts of treatments that turn your face into scrap iron, looks rough, even if he can still carry the bulk. But De Niro looks a decade younger, jumping rope, hitting the bag, doing pull-ups.
Hart’s zingers lack the pop and the frequency that he delivers in most comedies.
A few one-liners, a feeble touch of romance with Basinger (three Oscar winners are in this cast), a smart-mouthed kid — as formulas go, this one feels gassed.
It’s all very much in the style of director Peter (“Get Smart”) Segal — slow, sentimental, slick and sadly recycled. But it’s perfectly passable holiday entertainment for people who dated during the “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” era.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service