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  Grudge Match Thumpy Old Men
Year: 2013
Director: Peter Segal
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J, Camden Grey, Joey Diaz, Barry Primus, Frederick Douglas Plunkett Jr, Anthony Anderson, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Camila Le Sage, Paul Ben-Victor, Carrie Lazar
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in the early nineteen-eighties, the biggest rivalry in boxing was between Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro), but it's always lacked that final act, or so the fans and commentators on the sport believe. If only all those years ago they both had battled one another to a decisive victory, then the question of who was truly the better boxer would have been settled, but it never was, and now Sharp languishes in a blue collar, low paying job having lost his fortune thanks to bad investments and McDonnen lords it over his personal bar, having used his money more wisely, but still regretting the only time he was knocked out in the ring - by Sharp.

If only there was some way of working out which man was the best, which essentially set up the whole premise in cinematic terms: Rocky versus Raging Bull, a high concept if ever there was, or whatever passed for one when ageing stars managed to headline movies once again in the later stages of their careers. When this was announced it elicited groans from most quarters as what sounded like a bastardisation of two big celebrities' legacies seemed to be on the cards, and so it was when it was finally released that was pretty much the reaction it got, dismissed by audiences and critics alike as the nadir of two actors holding onto stardom like grim death. But for those who had no such prejudgements, with a small, shining hope this might be any good, it was a different story.

Although most thought this was Stallone's try at gaining prestige by appearing alongside a performer who had always received more respect for his thespian skills that he ever had, according to De Niro casting Sly was his idea when he read the script, which makes you wonder what kind of movie it would have been if Stallone had turned them down - would Carl Weathers or Dolph Lundgren been available? Seeing De Niro combating Mr. T would have been a sight to behold as well, but it wasn't to be, and it would be untrue to say the results did not trade heavily on the reputations and screen personas of these stars. Yet instead of making that a heavy weight hanging around their respective necks, the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman went the extra mile in offering tribute and having fun with their images.

De Niro's Jake LaMotta had been obnoxious, so his McDonnen was too, only not as odious (or sweary), just enough to give him an edge while still making him sympathetic enough with his family issues to put the ultimate ending in doubt (though in truth, maybe not as far as it should have). Stallone's Rocky had been a dumb lug with a heart of gold, so Sharp has the heart but is less punch drunk, connected to his old rival by their shared lover Sally (Kim Basinger looking like the sort of woman who would have been the source of regret in an elderly man's life as one that got away). Add in Kevin Hart as the extrovert boxing promoter's son who wants to get into the fight game arranging the whole match that serves as the grand finale and Jon Bernthal as the son Sharp should have had if only he were not McDonnen's, and you had a leisurely paced trip through proof these old guys still had star power.

De Niro especially came across as very engaged with the material, and the humour was less clunky oneliners and more natural-sounding, especially from the mouth of Sharp's even more elderly trainer Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin) who won the lion's share of the laughs. Refreshingly, there was no attempt to downplay the getting on in years nature of the cast as some Stallone vehicles were wont to do (naming no Expendables), so here was a film that referenced social media as a way of keeping it seeming up to date (the whole match grows out of a scuffle at a computer game motion capture session), but was happy to acknowledge the experience of the characters, and indeed the cast. It was probably too laid back for its own good if you wanted any kind of thrills, as even the final bout was lacking in real excitement, but there was a warmth, a coming to terms with lives of ups and downs, of triumphs and trials, that hitched to the good humour made for a surprisingly effective drama. As long as the whole idea didn't turn you off from the start, you'd find this genuinely well done. Music by Trevor Rabin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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