Sunday, December 29, 2013

Grudge Match [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Grudge Match [2013] (directed by Peter Segal, story by and screenplay cowritten by Tim Kelleher along with Rodney Rothman) is an IMHO surprising crude "boxing movie" that brings together two now older actors (sigh ...), Silvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, who both played iconic roles in "boxing movies" early in their careers -- It's hard to imagine talking about Silvester Stallone without remembering him playing (the fictional Philadelphia, PA boxer) Rocky Balboa in the always crowd-pleasing Rocky movie franchise (extending from 1976 to 2006) and Robert De Niro's portrayal of New York born (from the Bronx) Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull [1980] certainly helped to solidify his place as one of the more formidable "tough guy" Hollywood actors (but also with a range) of his generation.

So the current film's promised match-up between these two iconic Hollywood actors in no less a "boxing movie" promised to put smiles on the faces of generations of us, American moviegoers -- those of us who were barely 13 when the first Rocky [1976] came out, our parents who took us to those early Rocky movies, and our own generation's kids who've probably heard "more than a few words of praise" from us about those movies over the years.  And yet, what was surprising to me was the crudity of the current film, noted also by the CNS/USCCB's (U.S. Catholic Bishops' Media office's) review as well.  Was the crudity necessary?  Maybe it was a concession in part to Robert De Niro's presence (after all, his Jake LaMotta / in Raging Bull [1980] was _no_ sweetheart).  But I'm certain that a better screenplay here could have been written, even one containing most and perhaps even all of the film's plot twists and elements.

So what then was this current film about?  Well Grudge Match [2013], was about two fictional world class boxers from the 1970s both from Pittsburgh, PA, one Henry 'Razor' Sharp (played by Silverster Stallone) and the other Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (played by Robert De Niro), who at the top of their form had fought two fights against each other, each having won one, and then Henry 'Razor' Sharp walked away from a third "rubber" match that would have decided once and for all who was the better of the two.  Why?  Well that becomes a good part of the rest of the movie though it involves a woman (played by Kim Bassinger) and her now approaching 30 year old son (played by Jon Bernthal) with his own son now (played by Camden Grey).  Since the two boxing rivals were from the same town, one can kinda guess what had happened.  Yet, this still is largely a Rocky-like movie, so filmgoers are asked to just go with the flow.  There's enough fodder here for drama even after one has put the pieces more-or-less together.

Okay, 'Razor' had walked away from his boxing career and subsequently had lost most of his money, but he didn't seem to care, just taking a job as a welder at a Pittsburgh foundry just like his dad.  In the meantime, Billy 'The Kid; McDonnen, continued with his boxing career and eventually retired back to Pittsburgh, buying with his winnings a local car-dealership and (of course) a local sports bar.

Now why, after 30 years, would this boxing match ever take place?  Well Billy 'The Kid' had _always_ been up for that third match as his loss to Henry 'The Razor' had been the only blotch on his career and 'The Razor's' walking away from that third match had denied him the opportunity win-or-lose to set the record straight as to who of the two had been the better boxer.  In contrast, Henry 'The Razor' had left the rink in anger and at the beginning of the story had no interest at all in setting any record straight.  He was done with boxing 30 years ago and didn't see any reason at all to take it up now.

'Cept ... one day, Dante Slate, Jr (played by Kevin Hart) playing the son of a flamboyant, Don King-like 1970s-80s era boxing promoter named Dante Slate, Sr (in the story now deceased) arrives at Henry, the Razor's doorstep with the idea of (at least) creating a video game featuring both Billy 'The Kid' McGunnan and Henry 'Razor' Sharp.  And he asks Razor and Billy the Kid (separately, they still don't talk to each other) to come into a local studio (again separately) and dressed in these stupid sensor-covered suits to go through the motions of punching and jabbing and moving about a "blue-screen" boxing rink, all of which would then help the video-game makers make more realistic avatars of the two.

Well, as the advertising trailer to the film already shows, the two end up at the studio at the same time, and since they hate each other, both dressed in those stupid sensor covered suits really go at each other in the "blue-screen" studio.  Well, most of the young people working at that studio have smartphones ;-) So ... this "epic" if very impromptu fight ends up all over YouTube ;-).  Now an actual rematch between the two fighters becomes inevitable...

Initially, Henry 'The Razor' still didn't want to consent to an actual rematch.  However, it turns out that he had his father/mentor (played magnificently by Alan Arkin) in the hospital needing an operation (remember, the film still has its Rocky-like elements ... ;-).  So he finally consents, and much, much ensues.

Again, I LIKED/LOVED the Rocky movies, and I still kinda like this film.  But I do have to say that this film proved cruder than IMHO it needed to be.  Bottom line, the film-makers probably should have let Stallone have more creative control of this film than perhaps the film-makers let him (Stallone had _written_ that first Rocky [1976] movie and was far more involved in the writing of the other Rocky films than apparently he was here).  Now Robert De Niro was the other big actor here and perhaps it would have been impossible to simply let Stallone the shots.  Still, nobody has done a boxing movie in as family friendly fashion as Stallone.  So it's a shame that the film didn't truly bear his mark here.

For his part, De Niro played recently in another, IMHO far better, "ensemble film" named Last Vegas [2013] with a whole bunch of other "older actors of his generation."  So it's clear that he can do a "light movie" with his acting peers.  So it's just a disappointment that this film, IMHO, didn't end up nearly as good as it could have been. 

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