Posted January 14, 2014 by Nicolo Parungo in Movies/TV

MOVIE REVIEW: Grudge Match – A Battle for The Ages or The Cheap Seats?

Grudge Match is an awkward film, it tries to be a comedy about older people not being able to adjust with the ever changing times of modern society, but it also tries to go deeper than that, seemingly hinting at Meta commentary for the current careers of Robert de Niro and Sylvester Stallone. The result is a poorly executed dramedy full of clichés and two dimensional characters that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is.


That’s not to say there isn’t anything good about the movie, because there is; the humour is mostly funny and plays to the strength of the actors. We get plenty of tough guy one liners from Stallone’s character Henry “Razor” Sharp and Deniro’s Billy “The Kid” McDonnen spews plenty of dirty jokes that made me laugh quite a bit, Alan Arkin’s character Lightning is easily the funniest character in the movie, often making fun of the fact that he’s old and later busting Stallone’s chops during the obligatory training montage, in fact the comedic interactions with Arkin and Stallone is one of the highlights of the movie.

Of course the humour has its own problems; while it makes the characters funny it doesn’t make them likable; there’s a scene in a UFC event where the leads get interviewed to advertise the fight and they start ripping on the sport for no particular reason; to paraphrase De Niro “you know what we used to call fighters who kicked? Girls“, when a UFC fighter tries to defend his sport Stallone knocks him out with a punch; keep in mind that we’re supposed to be cheering him for doing this.

There are plenty of other examples like this, De Niro mocks a butch lesbian early on and later bullies his way into getting to train in LL Cool J’s gym. The film then defends their actions by essentially stating that they are old and we should respect them, while taking jabs at the modern generation, “we’re going to train old school, we’re not gonna use any of this pilates crap” Lightning jabs at one point, but the scene would mean something more if they actually TRIED doing pilates THAN mock it. I wouldn’t mind the jabs, if they would point out the problems that come from their generation too, but the movie doesn’t even try and paints De Niro and Stallone as saints who aren’t used to the new crap, while we’re insensitive and disrespectful for using Ipads, liking UFC and knowing what viral means.

The film also attempts to be Meta textual about the long careers of Stallone and De Niro, but does so with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face with plenty of “aren’t you too old for this?” Or “you’ve still got it” and “I’m old, but I’m not dead.” I’d forgive it if it didn’t happen so often in the film; I didn’t mind these meta comments in Skyfall because they weren’t frequent and asked serious questions about the franchise, but here they practically beat you over the head with it without proper context, sure they get mocked about their age early on, but once the training and viral promotion starts it gets dropped, while the meta questions continue.

What’s even more bothersome than the poorly executed Meta is the lack of true drama, this would be fine if they were playing this as a straight comedy, but they don’t, the movie gets serious, sad music plays in the background, like we’re supposed to feel bad or emotional to what happens on screen.

This happens often with Stallone’s arc as Sharp, he’s the one we’re supposed to be investing in and rooting for, but it’s hard to do that when a.) Stallone can barely emote and b.) All his big character decisions are done for him rather than by him. When he decides to accept his rival’s fight we don’t see him take the phone call, we see how the promoter and De Niro react instead, later on when we find out he’s blind in one eye we don’t find out through hints or clever P.O.V camera work, Lightning slaps him and says “anyone could have seen it” which actually feels like a bigger slap to the audience than to Sharp.


De Niro’s journey as McDonnen fairs a bit better, though not by much; his character arc is supposed to have him go from jerk to sweetheart, and to be fair the change is noticeable, it’s just incredibly by the numbers. He meets his long lost son and they bond, but he messes up and the son hates him again so he has to find a way to fix it. At the least it’s better than Stallone’s arc.

As far as performances go the big name cast merely does alright, De Niro feels like he’s phoning it in and so does Stallone, who like I said earlier can barely emote, Kim Basinger feels wasted here as Stallone’s love interest who betrayed him years ago, though she does a good job, Alan Arkin is hilarious and John Bernthal is surprisingly great as McDonney’s son BJ.

And then we have Kevin Hart, who gets his own little paragraph here, now I’m not going to say that he isn’t funny in the movie because he is, but he just seems to fill the same niche that Chris Rock, Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy have as a loud, boisterous and annoying black person.

Grudge Match is sometimes humorous, but mostly disappointing.

Thank you to Warner Bros. for the advanced screening 

Nicolo Parungo