It’s got LL Cool J in a supporting role, so instead of the obvious choice of Grumpy Old Boxers, let’s call Grudge Match “Grandpa Said Knock You Out” shall we? The premise is essentially one big gimmick: take two actors known for classic boxing movies and have them duke it out in a geriatric brawl. That’s about all there is to it, save for a funny post credits sequence that has more biting humor (both literally and figuratively) than anything that transpired in the previous 110 minutes. Said sequence also has nothing to do with the plot before it.
Sylvester Stallone spent a total of 30 years with his Rocky franchise in which the 1976 original won Best Picture. Robert De Niro won a Best Actor statue for his work in Scorsese’s Raging Bull in 1980. Here they are The Kid (De Niro) and Razor (Stallone). They fought two matches years and years ago which resulted in wins for each. The hotly awaited Grudge Match never materialized primarily due to a dispute over a woman (Kim Basinger).
When a promoter played by Kevin Hart begrudgingly enlists the two for a rematch, we got lots of old people jokes. Stallone, in particular, doesn’t even own a TV and WHAT ARE THESE IPADS AND THIS THING CALLED CALL WAITING?!?!?! There’s Alan Arkin as Razor’s trainer basically playing a version of his Oscar winning role in Little Miss Sunshine. Jon Bernthal becomes The Kid’s instructor and he is the son from Basinger that he never meets until present day. Bernthal has a precocious 8 year old son who teaches The Kid to be a grandpa. Also, Bernthal’s character is named B.J. and the writers get some comedic mileage out of it. This is the level of humor we are playing in, folks!
Grudge Match is chock full of cliches and a healthy portion of flat and obvious jokes. The best moments come from the amusing interplay between Hart and Arkin. We’ve already seen Stallone go to this well once before with 2006’s Rocky Balboa. Bringing De Niro along for a mostly stale second installment is about as unnecessary as it sounds.
** (out of four)