You could almost imagine the origins of “Grudge Match”. You can see a number of producers sitting around in a bar throwing around any ideas that come into their heads. Then, just after finishing the tenth tequila slammer, somebody suggests Rocky vs. Raging Bull with pacemakers. Now in normal society, this kind of suggestion would be met with a polite nod, an uncomfortable silence before quickly making some excuse to leave. However in Hollywood the reaction is, “Yeah we could make some money out of that”. Of course these high concept movies are nothing new. After all Hollywood has given us films asking what if Arnold Schwarzenegger was pregnant? What if there were snakes on a plane? What if Meg Ryan was a helicopter pilot? However the main problems with these kinds of films are that, okay you have the idea but now you have to expand it as a narrative. So it’s no surprise that this story of pensioners beating the crap out of each other fails to do so.
The story is that around 30 years ago, the rivalry between light heavy-weights Billy “The Kid” McDonnen and Henry “Razor” Sharp, played by Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone respectively, (with their younger selves played by weird computer generated versions of their Raging Bull/Rocky days) is hitting its peak with both of them defeating the other. However, right before the all-important third match, Sharp announces his retirement and turns his back on boxing, eventually going back to work in a steel mill (somebody working in American industry? What kind of strange fictional world is this?). Years later and low on money, Sharp agrees to provide a motion capture performance for a video game. While there, he runs into McDonnen where they get into a fight, which goes viral and ends up with a match between the two being organised because that’s how viral videos work right?
As the film is based on such a flimsy premise, the filmmakers decided to pad it out with as couple of subplots for each of the characters. They involve Sharp rekindling an old relationship with Kim Basinger’s character, while McDonnen attempts to start a relationship with his estranged son that he had with Basinger. These storylines appear to go all out to make sure they tick off every cliché in the book. This is particularly the case with De Niro’s plot, especially when his young grandson comes into the picture, who is supposed to be cute comic relief but comes across as grating as an out of tune saxophone. Stallone’s plot is hampered by his inability to show any kind of romantic tenderness, resulting in a lack of chemistry between Basinger and himself which would be laughable if it wasn’t so boring.
Another problem is that, while the film is mostly played for laughs, the end product is just not that funny, with the “they’re old” jokes falling flat the second time you hear them, never mind the twenty-seventh. The lazy performances don’t help the film. In particular, Alan Arkin on autopilot as Sharp’s old (no pun intended) trainer. Yet another annoying problem with the film however, is with Kevin Hart as a wannabe boxing promoter. Now it would be wrong to call him a poor man’s Chris Tucker, but that’s only because that position is already filled by Chris Tucker himself. It is truly a grating, unfunny performance but the fact that he is not the biggest problem in the film shows just how dull the film actually is.
The main problem with the Grudge Match is that, while the characters agree to the fight for the money and it turns out they have more personal reasons to fight, everybody involved in the film is here purely for the money. It is always difficult to be engaged in a film when you know that nobody’s heart is in the project and everybody is concentrating on their paychecks rather than the script. Knowing that, all you’re left with is a dull, by the numbers film that would leave your head long before the end credits roll.