Aging pugilists Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen had one of the greatest sports rivalries of the 1980s. Each fighter owns a bout in the books but Razor mysteriously retires before the highly anticipated rubber match goes down.
These days, Razor busts his hump in a faltering Pittsburgh steel mill to keep his old trainer, Louis 'Lightning' Conlon (Alan Arkin) paid up at the assisted living facility. Kid is a reasonably successful restaurateur and owner of a car dealership. Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), son of the late boxing promoter who booked Razor’s previous matches, wants to put Razor and Kid in a boxing video game. Of course, they butt heads and the ensuing melee goes viral, rekindling interest in their decades-old rivalry.
So Junior books the match, but each fighter’s past rears its respective ugly head: for Razor it’s his ex-girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger), who’s an ex for a reason. For Kid, it’s B.J. (Jon Bernthal), the son he never knew. Can the fighters keep their heads in the game and stay focused on how much they hate each other heading into the showdown?
Grudge Match is one of those movies that realizes it isn’t funny enough to just be a comedy and tries to fill the gaps with heart-thawing melodrama but ultimately fails in both ventures. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve laughed as much as you’re going to; it’s all an attempt to rope-a-dope you into the theater. The fact is you just can’t get two hours’ worth of solid comedy out of man-boob jokes and riffing on age vs. technology. There’s nothing wrong with shallow humor so long as it is as varied as it is plentiful.
On the other side of things, most of the characters lack any real emotional depth, save for a few Hollywood tears. They are sparingly endearing, which makes their reconciliations that much more meaningless. B.J., for example, must be either a horrible father himself or an emotionally-stunted caveman like his bio-dad after the shit Billy pulls. And maybe it’s just good ol’ cynicism but it doesn’t seem like anything is actually hashed out with Razor’s heartbreak—aside from three decades’ worth of cold shoulders boiled down into two almost-tense scenes—before he hitches his wagon back to the ex.
Yes, these are spoilers, the aim of which is to prevent you from watching this movie.
Hart and Arkin give this tomato can of a flick its only real ray of false hope. De Niro’s character is written like such an infantile prick that the actor’s charm is lost in the role. Conversely, Stallone is too wooden to portray Razor a genuine sense of maudlin. Basinger’s character is too dislikeable to analyze her performance. Bernthal has a solid performance in a poorly-written role.
If you insist on seeing Grudge Match, protect yourself at all times, because this cheap-shot does nothing but hit below the belt: your wallet.