It’s been a good decade since anyone questioned where Robert De Niro’s career was headed, and even longer since anybody wondered about Sylvester Stallone’s. So it seems fitting and none-too-surprising that the two would team up for Grudge Match, a film about being washed up. Even less surprising is that the film is garbage, doubling as tone-deaf comedy and cornball drama.
The premise has Stallone and De Niro reprising versions of cinema’s most famous boxers, Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta, respectively. In this case, we’ve got Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro), two washed-up boxers in their 60s who had a couple of historic fights three decades ago. After some bad blood and Razor’s sudden retirement just before their final rematch, the two have decided to get back into the ring and finally settle things. This is just a foundation for the movie’s supposedly bigger concern — taking a look at life after one’s glory has long faded. That’s a perfectly acceptable concept, except Stallone already made that same movie seven years ago with Rocky Balboa. That movie — while not great — is a solid, surprisingly personal film that was made after years of Stallone being relegated to straight-to-video junk. Stallone was at the true low-point of his career, and that aspect created a kind of sadness and sympathy that’s hard to find in Grudge Match.
It’s almost if Stallone has become less self-aware in the intervening years. And neither star seems to have much idea as to where they stand inside of the film’s more meta-textual aspects, making for a movie that’s obnoxiously full of itself. This means we get Stallone and De Niro playing Stallone and De Niro — a depressing notion in a film that is slathered in tough-guy posturing. Grudge Match is full of beer-commercial levels of phony machismo — all of it as antiquated and dull as it sounds.
The movie fancies itself a kind of comedy, but the jokes range from dumb to borderline vile, full of misogyny and fits of gay panic. But wait, Grudge Match also has a sensitive side. There is a certain amount of melodrama packed on top of it all, brought on by characters like Razor’s old girlfriend (a wooden Kim Basinger) and the son she had with The Kid, BJ (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street). It’s all basic, uninvolving and lengthens an already excessive runtime — worsening an already lousy movie. Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language.
Playing at United Artists Beaucatcher.