Well, this is embarrassing. Here are two old icons cashing in on former glory in a movie that just doesn’t work: it’s not funny, it’s clichéd and there’s only one performance in here that merits watching. Hint: it’s neither Sylvester Stallone nor Robert De Niro. Grudge Match is about two retired boxers who’ve never had a grudge match when they were still in their prime, because one of them bowed out of their decisive fight. Now, many years later, the two meet again doing mocap for a video game, have a dumb punch-up and as a result are asked to step in the ring one final time, to find out who’s the better boxer. Both men are in it for the money at first, but it’s not long before the film brings up a tired backstory and there are apparently lessons to be learned.
Grudge Match leans heavily on the audience’s love for the Rocky franchise and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, but other than that the movie really has little else to offer. We get it: it’s cool to bring the actors together who portrayed the fictional Rocky Balboa and real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, but it’s not enough. A comedy has to be funny, a drama has to have heart and a sports movie has to offer thrills; Grudge Match fails to deliver on all three. The script is too weak to give the actors anything interesting to do: Stallone is stuck playing Goody Two-Shoes, De Niro gets to play a one-note unlikeable loser, Kim Basinger gets handed a “character” who’s only there to cause conflict between the various men in the film, and Alan Arkin does another Alan Arkin’y performance as an old hardass spewing uninspired banter. Jon Bernthal manages to impress with his performance though: he gives his BJ (yes, so funny!) a lot of gravitas, warmth and depth with his very subtle acting. He’s the only actor who’s a joy to watch, who elevates the character from what was written on the page.
With its running time of two hours Grudge Match is overlong too. Once everything’s set up the movie starts repeating itself over and over (Stallone and De Niro argue, the two train, rinse and repeat), until the film gets to the fight we came to see in the first place. Unfortunately that battle isn’t climactic at all: it’s a total disappointment. While Stallone looks like he could pack a punch, De Niro doesn’t look like he could take one. It makes it hard to invest in the titular grudge match, especially once you notice the lacking fight choreography: there’s no rhythm to the boxing and it’s too obvious the punches thrown don’t connect. When the credits you’re left scratching your head, thinking: “Well, shouldn’t they’ve at least put some effort into the fight they named the movie after?”
Grudge Match is a waste of talent and time. Rewatch Raging Bull or Rocky instead and fantasize about the LaMotta vs. Balboa dream match. You’re better off that way. 3/10