Everyone who loves boxing movies always remembered two great classics like Rocky and Raging Bull, whose protagonists, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, we can find together in 2013’s Grudge Match.
Indeed the story concerns two former boxers, Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, who had a feud that lasted decades.
After a long rivalry in their past where they clashed twice, winning once for one, they finally never met in a final decisive match.
When the son of their old promoter, Dante Slate Jr., asks them to take part in motion capture for a video game, the job degenerates into the old face-off between the two rivals.
Their fight immediately goes viral on Youtube, and the public wants to see them back in the ring; Razor and The Kid are initially reluctant, yet given a big money offer and some persuasion, they accept the offer.
As they prepare for the bout, they simultaneously participate in a promotional campaign by appearing at various public events, screwing up a lot each time.
The Kid, in particular, seems obsessed with beating Razor and establishing once and for all that he is the best.
Instead, Razor is more committed to reconnecting with his old flame, Sally, whom he has never forgiven for sleeping with The Kid.
A son had moreover come out of this one-night betrayal, now curious to meet his father.
He is initially disappointed by the selfish attitude of The Kid. Still, he understands his reasons later, and being an athletic trainer, he even decides to train him to get in better shape, making him stop drinking and gorging on sweets.
Their lives will change so much that when the fateful day of the match arrives, it won’t matter who the winner will be anymore.
The winning combo of nostalgic fun
In 2013’s Grudge Match, Peter Segal demonstrates all the virtues and limits of his movies, although, in the end, it matters little since the intention is clearly to create an entertaining pace and vibe as in The Longest Yard.
Segal delivers a sports comedy with an excellent brisk rhythm while never losing sight of the plot’s relevance and the development of the relationships between the various characters.
Undoubtedly, the most significant strength is the cheerful and manly chemistry of continuous defiance between the two leads, Stallone and De Niro.
The two actors have already demonstrated their ability to play boxers in the famous Rocky and Raging Bull, of which Segal inserts many small references to maximize the nostalgia factor for the fans.
However, it is unfair to compare Grudge Match with the previous two movies, given the obvious differences in style and approach.
Rocky, directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Stallone, focuses on the growth and determination of the main character, with an atmosphere of realism that makes the boxer both fragile and robust.
Raging Bull by the great Martin Scorsese, on the other hand, is a dramatic and profound descent into the psychology of Jake LaMotta‘s personality, a man who is undoubtedly strong and stubborn but equally bizarre and often insufferable.
Scorsese’s direction is much more sophisticated and complex, with masterful use of shots and lighting sometimes bringing us into the ring in an almost surreal, dreamlike fashion.
As mentioned, Segal’s direction in Grudge Match is lighter and funnier. Yet, it is sufficiently engaging to narrate an exciting story not as silly as it may seem at first glance.
In short, the director continues to guarantee easy entertainment, this time of higher quality, because of his lead actors’ charisma.
Over the Ropes, age is just a number
Grudge Match features a stellar cast of high-caliber actors who surpass the director with their performances.
Stallone proves very convincing as Razor, with the humility of a boxer who has squandered his money and works as a factory worker.
He spends most of his time alone, without much opportunity to socialize or have fun, and the challenge against De Niro is his best chance to get back to life and get back to winning.
The actor successfully portrays a believable and engaging character, showcasing his acting skills and great physical strength.
On the other hand, De Niro is a more brilliant and over-the-top comic figure, owning a successful restaurant and using his fame and notoriety to attract customers, just as the elderly Rocky Balboa did in the last movies of the saga.
Initially, The Kid is just the funny element of the plot, although he becomes more interesting when he gets in touch with his never-known son, played by Jon Bernthal.
I have always admired this actor, and it is fantastic to see him, for once, in a more relaxed role instead of being the classic macho alpha guy that made him famous in series like The Walking Dead or The Punisher.
Perhaps a little too constantly over the top is Kevin Hart, the hilarious promoter who pushes the two boxers to the ring, but after all, that’s always the trademark of this comic actor.
Slightly better, however, are the two characters closest to Stallone: Alan Arkin, who provides a touch of wisdom and humor as the trainer, and the always magnificent Kim Basinger as the old flame who wants to reconnect with the lonely boxer.
Critics gave the movie a mixed reception, especially regarding the plot, deeming it predictable and lacking surprises.