There are a number of Christmas Day releases scuttling for your holiday dollar. “Grudge Match,” penned by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman is one of the many.
A comedy, “Grudge Match” tells the story of two former boxing rivals, Billy McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry Sharp (Stallone), who give up their careers before they peak, never giving their fans the satisfaction of a coveted rematch. It turns out both boxers have marched into old age with regret.
Enter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of the promoter who ripped off the two during the rise of their careers. It is his genius idea to reunite Billy “The Kid” McDonnen and Henry “Razor” Sharp and give fans what’s been overdue that sends the fighters toward salvaging who they always thought they were and a hefty payday.
It’s everything moviegoers might expect. It’s hilarious and in many ways, painful. Yes, it’s torturous to see these old guys topless and jumping around, punching things, their sagging skin and brittle bones responding in kind. And it’s not kind.
Not simply because they are old, but because we are subjected to just how unkind time can be. Even Rocky and the Raging Bull lose their flexibility, their speed, their strength. Their bodies are weighed down by aging and their minds with the burden of remorse. To make it endurable for the length of a studio film, joke after joke has to be made at the expense of the withering.
Luckily, “Grudge Match” doesn’t only bank on old people gags and reaches for something a little deeper. As these two tackle the ring one last time they also face the men they’ve been these past thirty years. Facing themselves, and each other, is the bigger and better battle they confront.
Opening with a ton of exposition (it’s wild to see what technology can do), we revisit the actors in their youth. Hart’s yarns land, even on ears that usually think he’s a yawn. And, we learn that De Niro has been a star all these years, not only because of his looks, but because his talent is timeless. He continues to be hot. Stallone still manages to make a pair of jeans look as if they were made specifically for his gate.
The most attractive aspect of the film is the discoveries the two make about love, loss and sacrifice on the journey to reclaiming their glory. As they do, viewers realize that the path of fate is splintered. One choice begets the effects of many choices.
Lovers walk away, sons never know parents, friendships are broken and children inherit the sins of their father.
Following the new Hollywood trend of mainstream movies centering on actors of a certain age, “Grudge Match” gives their female counterparts another go as well. The women are from the same era as De Niro and Stallone and it’s wonderful to see.
But special attention must be paid to Jon Bernthal, who portrays B.J. His skill as a performer is quickly catapulting him into the class of the next “greats”. Here, he is steady, committed and sincere.
“Grudge Match” takes a while to heat up, but once it hits its stride we’re out for the one-two count, touched by the emotional reunions and laughing along the way. Though it won’t be a box office knock out, it is a great Christmas day date movie sure to entertain.