I can see how Grudge Match looked like an epic undertaking on paper. Take the most famous boxer from the history of film, Rocky Balboa, and pit him against the other most famous boxer, Jake LaMotta. Sylvester Stallone vs Robert DeNiro in the ring. Sounds like a no lose situation. But is it?
Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (DeNiro) are two aged and retired boxers who never got to settle their rivalry 30 years ago. They had beat each other once but when their rematch was about to happen, Razor retired after finding out Billy slept with his girlfriend and got her pregnant. But promoter Dante Slate (Kevin Hart) sees their rematch as his ticket to the big time and convinced both men to get back in the ring and settle things once and for all. But it’s going to take more than jabs and hooks to set these men right after all that time.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here. Stallone, DeNiro, Basinger, Alan Arkin and the rest of the cast do a great job here. The emotional connection between the two fighters and their similarities and differences are well thought out and well crafted. The personal stories of both men are complicated and well played. All the dramatic scenes in Grudge Match work well. As does the humor, especially when Arkin is involved. But the big problem with the film that I just could not overcome is that DeNiro would be no match for Stallone in reality. We are lead to believe these men are equals in the ring and the big fight at the end plays out that way. But as you watch DeNiro, looking like anyone’s grandpa even though he is in good shape, trying to stay on par with Stallone, who looks like a ripped killing machine, I just didn’t buy it. That fight would have been over in one minute.
I am all for suspension of disbelief but this is what the whole film is hinged on, this rivalry of two men fighting each other. And I just could not get past it. Every time DeNiro hit Stallone and Stallone acted like it hurt I didn’t believe it. The other sore spot was the whole opening to the film where they try and assemble archival footage of the two men’s bouts in the past. Much of this is tried through digitally placing their faces on younger bodies or digitally de-aging them. Most of this digital work just didn’t cut it and looks outrageously fake. There were other ways they could have done this and I would have even settled for young actors playing them, but this method was just distracting. So coupling the bad opening with the unbelievable final fight just kind of ruined any good stuff in between for me.
The Blu-ray from Warner Home Video is sharp and detailed. Just what you would expect from a studio picture, it is well done overall. It just didn’t help the films weak areas and ultimately Grudge Match left me cold.
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD.