GOING THE DISTANCE: Dante Slate (Kevin Hart, right) tries to persuade Harry Razor Sharp (Sylvester Stallone, left) and Billy The Kid McDonnen (Robert de Niro) to come out of retirement in Grudge Match.

Grudge Match
DIRECTOR: Peter Segal
CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Robert de Niro, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes


Light-hearted and deliberately nostalgic, Grudge Match is uneven at times, although still fun to watch.

Some of the comedy comes across as ad libbed, other bits as forced, but by the time we get to a scene of Sylvester Stallone and Robert de Niro mumbling their way through The Star-Spangled Banner, we are left in no doubt that both of them are willing to send themselves up.

It is a tricky matter, making fun of a boxing movie, especially for these two actors who made their careers on the back of two good, successful dramas about pugilists. At what point does it spill over to the point of simply being funny and become a parody? Well, it depends on how much you worship the idea of Stallone and De Niro as Rocky and Raging Bull.

In this boxing comedy, Henry “Sharp” Razor (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) are two fighters lured out of retirement to duke it out one last time.

Their two previous bouts as young men ended with one win each, and now they supposedly get the chance to find out who really is the better boxer. That is, if the training schedule doesn’t kill them first – 30 years on.

Invited into a green room to film moves for a video game, the two start throwing furniture at each other, and everyone in the studio whips out a cellphone, with the resultant clips going viral.

Two old men behaving badly, coupled with the nostalgic value of pitting Rocky versus Raging Bull a la an ultimate video game, is what it attracts. (Think about just how successful The Expendables movies are – the more self-deprecating, the better.)

Trevor Rabin puts his rock history to good use on the film’s soundtrack, but the use of the T. Rex, John Lee Hooker and AC/DC puts us in no doubt – expect montages of grey tracksuit-clad fighters running along a Philadelphia skyline and trying to remaster the speed bag.

The two follow different training schedules, courtesy of Lightning Conlon’s (Arkin) old-school (is it vinegar or horse pee?) regimen, while The Kid’s estranged son, BJ (Bernthal), follows a more scientific approach to whip his dad into shape.

The jokes about being old and out of shape come thick and fast, especially towards the end, but it is Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart as Conlon and promoter Dante Slate jr who get the laughs.

The two of them have the comic timing down pat, unlike Stallone and De Niro, all of whose best jokes are already shown in the film’s trailer.

The film is all about making fun of harking back to the glory days, but there are so many clichés that the strong cast never manage to break out of the plot holding them back.

There are a couple of moments, in the almost-dramatic scenes when they question each other’s motives, so that we are nudged a little into Cop Land territory (the only other time that Stallone and De Niro acted opposite each other), but then all the old clichés yank them right back again.

Stick around for two funny scenes during the credit roll, which hint at just how much more fun this film could have been if the director had just thrown the script out of the window.

If you liked, Grumpy Old Men or The Odd Couple, you will like this.