Thank you director Peter Segal, Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Jon Bernthal and Kevin Hart for giving me a great Christmas present with GRUDGE MATCH. The fictional story of former boxers Henry "Razor" Sharp and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen, Razor and The Kid haven't spoken in 30 years. Each winning hotly contested bouts against the other with a third match set to "break the tie", on the eve of the final bout, Razor abruptly throws in the towel, announcing not only his retirement from the sport, but the cancellation of the fight. Bringing both of their boxing careers to a screeching halt, the two haven't spoken since.
Over the years, The Kid has parlayed his name into an endorsement bonanza, owning a car dealership and restaurant supper club, the latter where he performs doing a puppet act. Razor has slipped into relative obscurity, going to work at a local Pittsburgh ironworks foundry. Adding to the mix is boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr., whose father not only promoted the last two bouts between Razor and The Kid, but who embezzled the gates, leaving Razor and The Kid with empty-pockets. Unfortunately, Slate also left his son penniless.
But Dante Jr. is nothing if not industrious and with the same fast-talking charm of his father, convinces Razor and The Kid to enter the ring just once more. Hit a major payday for all three of them and answer the question once and for all, who's the better fighter.
Stallone and De Niro are perfection as Razor and The Kid, respectively. GRUDGE MATCH is as much about paying home to legends and their iconography as it is to deliver an entertaining film. Both having spent time on screen in the ring previously (Stallone as "Rocky" and De Niro as "Jake La Motta"), not to mention co-starring in "Copland", GRUDGE MATCH goes beyond the current grudge match between Razor and The Kid, poking fun at/paying homage to the good natured grudge match that began between the two actors at the Oscars in 1976 when Stallone and "Rocky" won Best Picture over De Niro and "Taxi Driver." Stallone at age 67 has never looked better and still packs a wallop. Even De Niro at age 70, who trained heavily for this role, has some moves in the ring that rival his quick glibbed dialogue.
Complete with amusing sight gags that are nods to the iconography of the two legends. For Stallone look for more than a few set-ups that harken to several of the films in the "Rocky" franchise (raw eggs and meat lockers will jump right out at you) while De Niro handily sends up nods to "Raging Bull" and "The Godfather".
But what is most impressive about this Tim Kelleher - Rodney Rothman script is how it embraces the legends that are Stallone and De Niro while finding a perfect meld with Jon Bernthal as BJ, who just now learns that The Kid is his father, and Alan Arkin as Razor's trainer Lightning Conlon, adding a slightly crustier edge to the imagery ingrained in our collective consciousness of Burgess Meredith as Rocky Balboa's trainer, Mickey. As Dante Slate, Jr., Kevin Hart is just an outright hilarious scene stealer! (And stay through the credits for some laugh-out-loud hijinks with Hart.) Kim Basinger is a rose among the thorns as the woman between Razor and The Kid, delivering a quiet performance that it sweet and engaging. Jon Bernthal has quickly risen in the ranks as man to watch thanks to a strong turn earlier this year in "Snitch" and currently also in "The Wolf of Wall Street". As BJ, Bernthal grounds the film with an honesty and heart that is wonderful to watch unfold as the relationship between BJ and The Kid unfolds (and yes, it will remind you of the Rocky Jr. - Rocky relationship in "Rocky Balboa").
No stranger to working with legends, having paired Jack Lemmon and James Garner in "My Fellow Americans" some years back as former presidents who are less than friends, director Peter Segal now pairs up a few more legends with Stallone, De Niro and Arkin, the latter of whom had never worked nor met with either of the first two despite some 50 years in the business. For director Peter Segal, GRUDGE MATCH is a dream come true, particularly when it comes to the ultimate fight on "Grudgement Day" as he called on none other than Stallone to choreograph the fight together with Robert Sale, the film's boxing consultant who worked with Stallone on all of the "Rocky" films. Calling Stallone, "the best fight choreographer in the business", I have to agree and watching the ultimate bout between Stallone and De Niro is nothing short of magic. Thanks to cinematographer Dean Semler and his implementing 7 cameras, plus employing some HBO sports cameramen to help with the lensing, not to mention sportscaster Jim Lampley, UFC announcer Mike Goldberg and the HBO sports team commentators, the result is a beyond realistic bout with Stallone and De Niro doing all their own boxing and throwing real punches. NOTE: No stunt doubles are used in the fight sequences. It's all Stallone and De Niro.
GRUDGE MATCH pulls no punches. A trip down memory lane for many of us, a fun-filled often tongue-in-cheek nod to cinema legends, it wins every round.
Directed by Peter Segal
Written by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal