Shrug off ‘Grudge Match’

Contributing writerDecember 25, 2013 

SPOILER ALERT!

Most of the funny stuff in “Grudge Match” is in the trailer. So if you’ve seen that trailer, save yourself the price of admission and about two hours of your precious time. The picture itself isn’t awful. It’s just listless and lackluster with lots of dead air between the laughs.

Billed as a comedy, “Grudge Match” is a tale of two way-over-the-hill boxers who, fueled by 30 years of mutual loathing, lace up the gloves for one last fight. The central concept – “Rocky Battles Raging Bull” – engenders cringes and curiosity in approximately equal measure. The thought of Robert De Niro mocking what’s arguably his greatest performance by doing a sort of send-up of his Jake LaMotta character is enough to leave a fan of his work feeling deflated and despairing. But then you remember he did something similar to his other signature role – the “Godfather’s” Vito Corleone – in the “Analyze This” and “Analyze That” movies, and the first one at least is a hoot. So maybe there’s reason for hope.

Alas, hope takes it on the chin in “Grudge Match.”

Not at first, though. That’s because Stallone, playing a fighter with clear connections to Rocky Balboa — insert meat locker beef-punch scene here — gives an unexpectedly sensitive, low-key performance that is in stark contrast to De Niro’s abrasive overacting. It’s better by far than Stallone’s work in this year’s “Bullet to the Head” and “Escape Plan.” In fact, it’s reminiscent of his performance in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” And that’s the problem. We’ve seen it before.

And finally there’s the big fight in which these two old dudes pound each other to hamburger.

Same old, same old. And I do mean old.

Grudge Match

2-1/2 stars

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger

Director: Peter Segal

Running time: 1:55

Rated: PG-13; sports action violence, sexual content and language.

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