Twitter Plot Summary: Two retired boxers head to the ring to settle their decades-old rivalry once and for all. Plus family and relationship stuff goes on too.
On paper, the thinking behind Grudge Match makes a lot of sense. Throw together two actors who have previously played great cinematic boxing icons, albeit 30 years after those films showed them in their prime, turn it into a media circus/money making exercise for all parties, and have a laugh at the expense of the two elderly men destined to have one final, deciding fight after their historic rivalry didn’t receive its appropriate sign-off back in the day. It’s wish fulfillment along similar lines to the Legends mode you usually find on EA boxing games, with the exception this time being that it’s actually happening rather than being depicted on a video games console.
The jokes are aimed squarely at the age of the characters and their lack of understanding of modern technology, with a few nods and winks towards the Rocky films and Raging Bull to keep fans of those films happy. In truth there aren’t enough of these callbacks to those older, better films, which is testament to how unappealing this script really is. Attempts to give both characters some melodramatic family and relationship moments generally fall flat.
It might have worked quite well in the Rocky films, but here there are too many characters involved for it to have a suitable payoff. You end up with your focus split between two characters (and by extension the characters that surround them) which dilutes the dramatic impact. The irony is that there’s more enjoyment to be had watching Stallone and DeNiro dress up in full luminous green motion capture suits than in listening to their emotional problems and various age and boxing related ailments. That should speak volumes.
Kevin Hart is the young promoter looking to turn around the hard times he’s also found himself in, desperately trying to convince both men to take part despite their better judgement. He doesn’t prove to be as annoying as he has been elsewhere – the man does have talent but his choice of roles often do him little favour. At least here he gets to partake in some barbed jibes with Alan Arkin, proving to be an unlikely but entertaining odd screen pairing. Arkin has picked out some solid roles in recent times, and this one where he is the less-grizzled equivalent of Mickey to Stallone’s Rocky, is no different.
The moment we all spend the whole movie waiting for, the boxing match to end all boxing matches, does actually prove to be worth the wait. True, both men are obviously past their prime and this angle is played up to an almost ridiculous level, but even this Battle of the Pensioners shows that they still have it even if “it” has been greatly reduced over time.
In most respects it strikes out as being a less impressive relative of Stallone’s rather good Rocky Balboa from 2006, but there’s enough meat on its bones and humorous interactions to see it through, even if it does pale in comparison to the boxing films it draws inspiration from.