Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sylvester Stallone – Rambo) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (Robert De Niro – Heat) have been rivals for decades. When they were young boxers, they hated each other and had two epic encounters resulting in a win each. Then Razor unexpectedly announced his retirement from the sport leaving their rivalry unfinished. A chance encounter 30 years later rekindles their old grudge and leads to a potentially lucrative rematch for both men. But can Razor and The Kid still deliver the goods in the ring to finally find out who will come out as the true victor.
Grudge Match has all the trademarks of a gimmick movie but thankfully in the hands of writers Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman it takes on a new, unexpected energy. The concept might be ‘Rocky vs Raging Bull’ but Grudge Match actually has a lot more going for it with an involving plot surrounding the direction these boxers lives have taken. It handles the family drama with a lot more tact and credit than the trailers would suggest. The story behind the feud is realistically complicated and gives the film a decent level of emotional baggage to tag along with the obvious comedy.
Sylvester Stallone may have hung up Rocky’s gloves for the last time in 2006 but he brings a raw magnetism to Grudge Match that we have sorely missed. Initially apprehensive of reprising the role of a boxer, it was Robert De Niro that convinced Stallone to sign up for this movie in the first place and the two share a wonderful chemistry and dynamic that makes this such an entertaining watch. De Niro shows he is a dab hand at situation comedy and can certainly hold his own in the ring. Having Stallone up against him gives us one of the best on-screen duos we’ve seen for some time.
The supporting cast are all excellent with The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal doing a great job as Billy’s estranged son. The ageless Kim Basinger also impresses as his mother who has come between the fighters in the past whilst US stand-up comedian Kevin Hart dutifully obliges as a loud Boxing promoter looking to monetise Henry and Billy’s feud. Alan Arkin steals the film and is a particular joy to watch as Henry’s trainer and surrogate father. His chemistry with Stallone and Hart makes for the films funniest moments too and his reaction to the end fight is worth the admission price alone.
With laughs aplenty, strong leading performances from Stallone and De Niro and quite a bit of genuine heart, Grudge Match comes in as great entertainment that hits all of its marks. With a decent story and assured support, this is one knockout action comedy that you won’t want to miss.