“Grudge Match” is a sporadically funny movie that clearly capitalizes on the legacies of the stars of two great boxing films. A guilty pleasure for those with nostalgia for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” and Robert de Niro’s “Raging Bull,” this feel-good sports comedy is best watched with a mindset that the material is average at best.
A passable commercial work backed up by a strong cast, this movie mainly relies on comedy cliches. Yet, its sensitivity and perspective as a light comedy provides enough chucklesome sight gags and crowd-pleasing moments meant for the not so demanding audience.
The story revolves around two boxing legends who left their third deciding match unrealized decades ago. Now, out of their personal needs as struggling seniors, they both agree to do motion-capture work of their iconic moves for an animated game. As their unexpected encounter suddenly leads to a bickering buffoonery, social media frenzy brings their long-festering feud back inside the ring. Their series of both planned and unplanned viral videos further boost their bout’s commercial viability, as these two old folks trade the glorious memories of their heydays into a must-see HBO event that seems to poke fun at their rivalry in and out of the ring. Soon, they live to fight again, as long as they survive the training and the serious revelations hitting their personal lives.
While never a knockout with its largely forgettable studio comedy roots, this by-the-numbers picture has its moments. It gets a couple of points courtesy of its main characters’ charm. The matchup between these two finely aging Hollywood celebrities packs the narrative with a decent proportion of laughs — most of which include crass and obnoxious humor. It is worth noting that its cliched moments and wall-to-wall jokes don’t dumb down the tale like what other worthless mindless flicks do.
Director Peter Segal doesn’t let the pace drag. As a form of harmless entertainment, it lands some comic jabs using old-time jokes that avoid the lame route. It may not be sharp enough to counteract the material’s lackluster quality and persistent mediocrity, but it slams its plot points with many explosively funny scenes.
More often than not, the script manages better when the boxers explore their familial and romantic relationships through light interactions. However, when the more serious aspects of the story kick in, the narrative starts receiving some bad blows.
The predictable gags generally work with the witty dialogue and the tenacity of the leads. But unfortunately, the story gets caught in the middle without a solid payoff. Moreover, there are times when the storytelling seems a bit confused on whether to play things straight up or focus more on ludicrous studio genre exercises.
The stellar cast offers a number of entertaining one-liners. Although clearly a late-career cash grab for Stallone and De Niro, these veteran stars provide genuine emotional heft to the proceedings. No matter how occasionally misguided the flawed and uneven tale gets, these actors are able to put in enough effort in going through the comedic and dramatic motions. They also prove they can still go a few rounds as boxing stars for this vanity project. Alan Arkin is also worth mentioning for his sardonically riotous supporting performance. So goes with Kim Basinger who rocks her role with just enough depth and curiosity.
This motion picture that undeniably targets fans of its main stars or their iconic boxing films is pleasant but underwhelming — especially when readily compared to the older cinematic pieces that inspired it. Neither great nor terrible, this completely disposable flick ultimately works for its lighter intentions. Overall, it is still a watchable vehicle for the pairing as they punch their way out of the fluff to maniacally yank at the viewers’ heartstrings.