‘Grudge Match’ Review
Mr. DeNiro, there are other hobbies.
It's great that you like to keep busy, really. But gobbling film roles and saying “yes” to every single offer that comes to your door as if terrified there will never be another opportunity to go before the camera...this is no way to live. You were great once. You have occasional flashes of greatness still. I know opportunities dry up for older actors, but you must be selective.
If you have to get that acting jones out, may I suggest the theater? Not only would your failures only embarrass you in front of a few hundred people a night, but you'd get to stay in your hometown of New York. For 'Grudge Match,' a film which will probably get seen by a great number of people as it opens over the Christmas break by vacationing families with nothing better to do, you had to travel all the way to Pittsburgh.
In 'Grudge Match' you quickly squander the cultural capital you built in the masterpiece boxing opera 'Raging Bull' with an explicit reference in one of the earliest scenes. (A similar gag happened in the dreadful 'The Family' with regard to 'GoodFellas.' Did Martin Scorsese borrow your car and return in scratched or something?) Still, the amount of direct references to 'Raging Bull' are few and far between in 'Grudge Match' compared to Sylvester Stallone and 'Rocky.'
In Sly's defense, what else has he got, really? He's already beaten whatever that character was worth into the ground with six (six?) movies, and while there are moments of his career that are elevated above basic surface entertainments (the script to the first 'Rocky,' parts of 'F.I.S.T.,' the mostly forgotten 'Cop Land' and his general likable demeanor) it's not like we expect much from this guy. Frankly, a movie where he plays a washed-up boxer/steel worker who'd like to settle the scores of his shattered past sounds just about right.
Unfortunately, a gritty drama with a frank look at emotionally isolated members of the working poor in their late 60s is not where 'Grudge Match' goes. It chooses the path of comedy, and while comedy is subjective, I doubt there are too many people out there itching to see a film wherein Robert DeNiro passes gas in someone's face. Or makes that frowny-smiley face as he vamps wordplay like a deranged tough-guy Jackie Mason. Or where precocious little boys make FAR too many jokes about oral sex. (In the boy's defense, he thinks “B.J.” stands for “butterscotch jellybean.”)
Worse, though, is how 'Grudge Match' delays the inevitable. It takes a long time until these two old timers with a history lace up again and settle their differences in the ring. There are interminable scenes of training all set to needle-drop tunes you've heard a hundred times before (seriously, does it cost $.99 to license Edwin Starr's 'War' at this point?) and, even worse, there are oceans of family reconciliation scenes we need to swim through.
Both Sly and De Niro are presented as good guys, though Sly tugs at the heartstrings a little more. I was curious how the movie would eventually settle on a winner of the titular grudge match, but, I must confess, that curiosity wasn't enough to make the rest of the film worthwhile. Many people at the free screening I attended walked out before the climactic fight (most during the rancid scene in which Kim Basinger and Sly stand on Xs and blurt wooden dialogue at one another). I couldn't do the same, as I was tasked to write this review. Now I'm the one with the grudge.
'Grudge Match' opens in theaters on December 25.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.