Grudge Match

Year: 2013
Production Co: Warner Bros
Studio: Callahan Filmworks
Director: Peter Segal
Writer: Tim Kelleher/Rodney Rothman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Jon Bernthal, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Anthony Anderson

I remember being quite excited at the prospect of this movie when I first heard about it – something about two of the most iconic movie boxers returning to the genre that made them stars, I guess. Such a profile was probably enough to get moviegoers everywhere interested, but the result is remembered as a dud. Critics mostly hated it and it resolutely bombed, only making about three quarters of its budget back in America and a bit more worldwide.

I remember how it came and went with nary a whisper so I was ready for a turkey of epic proportions, but those low expectations might have served me well, because despite a few cliches there's a lot to like.

One is that Stallone and De Niro throw themselves right in, enjoying every moment as age-old boxing rivals Henry 'Razor' Sharp and Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen when they could have coasted lazily and phoned it in. Names like Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart and Kim Basinger give the edges of the story just as much zing and heart. There are some genuinely laugh out loud moments of comedy and it's as poignant and heartfelt as you can expect from a studio movie.

Henry is a recluse who just wants to enjoy his quiet life and Billy is a blowhard who wants to coast on celebrity that's long since faded. Since Henry announced his retirement right before their big rematch decades before, Billy has never forgiven him.

Against his better judgment, Henry is talked into taking part in a recording session wearing a motion capture suit for a video game, orchestrated by fast talking but down on his luck promoter Dante (Hart). He's agreed to do it if he doesn't have to lay eyes on Billy, but when they find thesmselves face to face in the studio they start throwing punches for real.

The ensuring media interest convinces Dante that a rematch will solve all their problems. Media whore Billy is all for it, reconnecting with his biological son BJ (Jon Bernthal) to train him and getting to know his grandson in the process. Henry is far less enthusiastic, agreeing but insisting on his old trainer Lightning (Arkin) joining him, all the while tentatively reconnecting with old flame Sally (Basinger).

The story is about much more than just the build-up to the match. This isn't Rocky or Raging Bull, and maybe that's why critics were disappointed. If you want to get all philosophical about it you could say it's about legacy, regret and seconds chances, but if you just look at the surface it's a lively buddy comedy that weaves plot strands and characters together pretty deftly and manages to work a decent number of honest laughs into the bargain.

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