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REVIEW: Stallone and De Niro return to boxing ring for 'Grudge Match'


I know, I know. The minute you see Sylvester Stallone in yet another boxing movie, your first inclination is to turn the corner and run away as far as you can. Then you throw into the mix another established veteran actor (Robert De Niro) who previously had won an Academy Award for the portrayal of a boxing legend (Jake LaMotta in 1980’s Raging Bull) and you officially throw in the towel. Right?


Not so fast. If you can get past your initial impressions, you might come to actually enjoy the actors’ latest film Grudge Match.


The story involves two former Pittsburgh boxers Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro), who squared off several times in the 1980’s. After McDonnen won the first match and Sharp took the rematch, the two were slated to fight for a third time when Sharp suddenly retired from boxing. Photo: thewrap.com


Fast forward three decades later. Sharp, who lost most of his earnings to a shady promoter, works in a local factory. McDonnen, on the other hand, capitalized on his fame by opening a restaurant and car dealership- where McDonnen has no problem shying away from attention whenever the situation calls for it. However, as successful as McDonnen has been out of the ring, he still can’t get past the fact that Sharp walked away from the match all those years ago.


Then along comes Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of the late promoter who took Sharp to the cleaners. Slate is aware of what his father did to Sharp, so in a way to make amends/cash in on what could potentially be major promotion, he approaches Sharp with the idea of getting him to step into the ring with McDonnen for one final time. While McDonnen is all for the idea, Sharp initially declines. However, when Sharp gets laid off from his job and he can’t afford to support his old trainer Louis (Alan Arkin), he reluctantly agrees to participate.


While Sharp goes to the studio to act his part in the making of a simulated boxing video game, Donnen arrives earlier than expected. Suddenly, old wounds are opened, push comes to shove, and a melee between the two turns into an absolute frenzy on social media. What was once just a local match turns into a must-see event that captures the attention of the entire country.  And this is when things get interesting.


What follows over the next several weeks of training are a series of events, discoveries, and even life-changing revelations that put the lives of both Sharp and McDonnen in perspective as their bout draws closer. This involves the return of Sharp’s old flame Sally (Kim Basinger), who has a few surprises of her own for both fighters- as it turns out their love for the ring wasn’t the only thing that they shared. During this time, the two realize that they both needed this fight to happen, but for reasons they might not have originally anticipated.


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After six Rocky movies, it was a gamble for Stallone to step into the role of a fighter whose first name isn’t one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. To his credit, he does a nice job of not making the viewer think that he is once again playing the Italian Stallion. Sure, there’s the obligatory meat locker scene strictly played for laughs, but Stallone’s role of Razor is more polished than Rocky and serves as the straight man for De Niro’s role of Kid. While Stallone and De Niro work well together, the funniest lines in the entire movie come from Hart and the always reliable Arkin. Whether they share the same scene or are apart, both are scene stealers and rattle off enough dialogue that you’ll probably miss some of it just by laughing out loud.


Not everything works. You get your run of the mill old jokes and the road to the fight is a little unevenly paced at times, but Grudge Match is more than just a boxing film and delivers more hits than misses (no pun intended). It’s a tale of coming to grips with the fact that time waits for no one, and that second chances stemming from regret don’t always happen. But when they do, you have to make the most of it. You’ll enjoy this one.



Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: thewrap.com