Boxing has provided us with an abundance of great cinema, with stand outs such as Million Dollar Baby and The Fighter, but there are perhaps none better than Raging Bull, starring Robert De Niro and Rocky, with Sylvester Stallone at the centre of the squared circle. Surely putting the two together would work…maybe about twenty years ago. In steps director Peter Segal to present ‘Grudge Match’, pitting Jake LaMotta toe to toe with Balboa, albeit with new personas and back stories. Stallone is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and De Niro is Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen, a couple of Pittsburgh bruisers who had a simmering rivalry thirty years in the past. With one win apiece all those years ago, a decider was imminent but an abrupt retirement from Sharp cut their trilogy short. When a pushy promoter gets in their faces waving wads of cash around, the dollar signs soon appear in the baggy eyes of the adversaries and a final fight is announced to end the bitter feud once and for all.
Like the characters they’re portraying, it’s difficult to imagine why these two admirable pensioners would put themselves through the turmoil at their age. The narrative is chockfull of jokes about Razor and The Kid being past it, over-the-hill, in it for the money but as the sparse material is stretched out, the lines fade between them and the actors. The opening scenes showing flashbacks to their glory days looks like a crudely rendered video game, and sections that require any strenuous activity are padded out with filler and montage, shamelessly harking back to the Rocky franchise. In fairness, the acting away from the ring isn’t too bad as Sly and Bob bounce off one another rather well despite a lacklustre script.
The family subplots are rather forced, with McDonnen’s father/son dynamic with Jon Bernthal’s BJ providing a few laughs, as does Razor’s friendship with his cantankerous trainer ‘Lightning’ Conlon, played comfortably by Alan Arkin who brings some much needed class to proceedings. These pleasant distractions give sparse entertainment and then Kevin Hart comes back to ruin it all again with his one-note overdone performance as Kevin Hart, and the Kim Basinger love triangle with the two brawlers fails to live up to much. Ultimately though, it could have been worse. The paint-by-numbers plot flows along as you would expect building to an inevitable end battle which is easy to cheer for if you’ve decided whose corner you’re in by that point. For me, it always has to be De Niro. It winds up similar to your favourite old pair of trainers. Comfortable, familiar and worn out. You’ll throw them on to try and remember the good times but they’ve definitely seen better days.