by Kathie Smith
Like gifts piled under the tree, you never know what you might get in the way of Christmas Day movie releases. In the case of Grudge Match, no amount of wrapping paper can completely conceal the surprise of its contents. If you’ve gone so far to watch the trailer, the equivalent of shaking the box, you’ve been warned. Nonetheless, here are three clues to what you are going to get in this holiday package:
Director: Peter Segal
Producers: Michael Ewing, Bill Gerber, Mark Steven Johnson, Ravi D. Mehta, Peter Segal, Chris Osbrink, Bob Dohrmann
Writers: Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman
Cinematographer: Dean Semler
Editor: William Kerr
Music: Trevor Rabin
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal
US Theatrical Release: December 25, 2013
US Distributor: Warner Brothers
1. Grudge Match is a boxing movie. Even if you are not a fan of the sport, boxing offers a stage that has produced everything from Frederick Wiseman’s Boxing Gym to David O. Russell’s The Fighter, from Howard Zieff’s The Main Event to John Huston’s Fat City, and, most relevantly (see number 2), from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull to John G. Avildsen’s Rocky. As diverse as these films are, you can count on some unmistakable tropes: the down-on-his luck underdog, the manly man who has trouble expressing his feelings, a woman who stands by her manly man despite the hardships, variations of blue collar stereotypes, and, of course, socially sanctioned violence. Grudge Match employs every one of these hackneyed themes into this lazy story.
2. Grudge Match is a boxing movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro. There were probably good (legal) reasons why Grudge Match was not titled Rocky vs. Raging Bull, but this absurd and disjointed subtext could not be less subtle. The wink-wink references in Grudge Match to these classics could be made into a very creative drinking game if anyone in their right mind wanted to entertain a second viewing. Alan Arkin plays an updated and dirty-minded version of Burgess Meredith’s character in Rocky, and Kim Basinger is some sort of bland combination of Cathy Moriarty’s Vickie in Raging Bull and Talia Shire’s Adrian in Rocky.
3. Grudge Match is directed by Peter Segal. Best know for his films with Adam Sandler such as Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and The Longest Yard, Segal also directed Tommy Boy, Naked Gun 33 1/3 and 2008’s Get Smart. A simple assessment of those titles and a look at the resume of writer Tim Kelleher (a Disney production called First Kid starring Sinbad) should be enough evidence of the featherweight material that drives Grudge Match. Prepare yourself for a whirlwind of man-boob jokes and latent misogyny and racism safely filtered through a grumpy old man. Without a doubt, the handful of laughs produced far surpasses the negligible and half-hearted attempts at drama.
Those who put down their hard-earned money and step into the theater for Grudge Match are likely ignoring these indicators of a movie made from a mixed bag of tricks. Stallone and De Niro play caricatures of washed-up boxers while patronizing a playful commentary on their own careers. But this mostly humorous attempt to go meta à la JCVD gets lost in a meandering melodrama of lost loves and estranged children, reconciliation and new beginnings. The more serious but misguided underpinnings of Grudge Match—including the token final fight between the shirtless aged ones—falls so flat that you are almost thankful for the geriatric wisecracks. The two surprise cameos in the movie’s epilogue (no spoilers here) represent a more lighthearted tone that Segal and crew should have more fully embraced throughout. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, you consider the holidays a time for senseless martyrdom, or you’re from Pittsburgh where the film was shot, Grudge Match is one gift worth respectfully refusing.