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Grudge Match

2014-01-24 09:31
What it's about:

Thirty years after their last match, two retired boxers are coaxed back into the ring for one final match, but great and deeply entrenched personal animosity between the two means that this is one match that is about a lot more than just sportsmanship.

What we thought:

Saying that Grudge Match is the long-awaited answer to who would win in a fight between Sly Stallone's charmingly fictional Rocky Balboa and Robert Deniro's take on the decidedly charmless and sadly all too real Jake La Motta, might seem like a great way to sell the film, but bringing up either Rocky or Raging Bull in this context is a frankly disastrous mistake.

While I have always hated Raging Bull because of just how hateful its lead character is, it's impossible to deny what an artistic triumph that film was (Raging Bull remains, incidentally, my go to answer for explaining how far apart objective criticism and personal taste can sometimes be) and having Grudge Match evoke that 1980 masterpiece is kind of like someone teasing you with scotch fillet, while you're trying to wolf down a borderline inedible fast food burger.

Similarly, though Rocky doesn't have quite so high a reputation, it remains arguably the greatest sports movie ever and (most of) its sequels are still the textbook example of how to transition from an awards-winning artistic triumph to crowd-pleasing b-movie goodness and, again, there's nothing about Grudge Match that is anywhere near this remarkable. It is perhaps somewhat tonally consistent with Rockys III and IV but if you're hoping for anything in Grudge Match to reach the glorious daft heights of having Sly's alter ego basically KOing communism single-handedly then you're in for a bitter, bitter disappointment.

More is the pity then that Grudge Match does have this incredible and ultimately inescapable legacy breathing down its neck because viewed on its terms, it's actually kind of fun. It is, of course, complete nonsense from beginning to end, but it's pretty passable nonsense nonetheless. Actually less unbelievable than you would think, Grudge Match is still hopelessly clichéd, predictable and corny, to say nothing of its inert direction (Peter Segal has directed a few too many Adam Sandler movies to come out in tact as a director), bad pacing and crummy boxing scenes but it aims so low that even these sins are surprisingly easy to forgive.

Sly is Sly and Deniro continues to slum it, but both have been far worse in far worse films and there's still enough of their old selves in these performances to ensure that they bore rather than annoy. On the other hand, Kevin Hart who is presumably supposed to be the main source of the film's light comedy, does trample all over the line between annoying and funny, oscillating consistently between the two. The great saving grace of the film though is Alan Arkin who may not exactly push himself but Arkin on autopilot is still pretty great and he's still as solidly cantankerously funny as you would hope, while he at least seems comfortable, rather than bored. Remember him in Segal's big screen adaptation of Get Smart? Arkin's pretty much doing the same thing here and it still pretty much works. Too bad he doesn't have Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway here to pick up at least some of the comedic slack.     

To give the film a bit of a feminine touch, by the way, is Kim Basinger and though she has clearly aged really rather well, her character and her performance here is so nondescript that the film might as well have just been about the (generally rather old) boys.

Honestly, there really isn't much point in seeing Grudge Match. If you want Sly or Deniro on b-grade form then rather check out surprisingly decent b-movie fare like Escape Plan or Last Vegas respectively. If you want them on genuinely good form, feel free to check them out in any one of their many good roles (or, in the case of Deniro, many many many great roles, up to and including his brilliant turns in the recent films of David O Russell), not least of which are the roles on which their characters in Grudge Match are actually based. And yet, for all that's wrong about the film and for all that it gets very little really right, it's still nowhere near as terrible as it really should be. Heck, if you can somehow put the past out of your mind and focus purely on the film itself without its mountains of baggage, you may even enjoy it enough to raise that rating by a full star.

Me, I still can't help but want more from my schlock.   

It's not very good at all, but manage your expectations a bit and you just may find Grudge Match to be more fun than it really ought to be.
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