By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “Yo, Adrian, it’s Bobby D.!”
For those plagued by the hypothetical pugilistic question, “Who would win in a bout between Rocky and Raging Bull?,” Grudge Match might at least hint at an answer.
A tongue-in-cheek answer, however, because the pairing of Rocky creator/star Sylvester Stallone and Raging Bull Oscar winner/star Robert De Niro is -– and a wise choice, at that -– a comedy.
They play sixtysomething ex-boxers and longtime rivals in Pittsburgh who are coaxed out of retirement to fight one final match.
Stallone is -– or was — Henry “Razor” Sharp, who shocked the boxing world by officially retiring the night before their scheduled title match after splitting their previous two bouts, thus essentially ending both of their careers while they were still in their prime.
Razor now works in a factory and looks in regularly on his ex-trainer, Louis “Lightning” Conlon, played by Alan Arkin, who lives in a nursing home.
De Niro is –- was — Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, who still resents that Sharp quit that night all those years ago. He’s doing okay, owning a bar and running a car dealership, while gambling wildly and maintaining what might politely be called an active social life.
The reason for Sharp’s decision all those years ago isn’t immediately revealed, but let’s just says that it involves Sally Rose, Razor’s ex-girlfriend, played by Kim Basinger.
Their thirty-year grudge has only gotten worse as the years have gone by, and their actual boxing careers have long since disappeared in the rearview mirror.
Then a would-be boxing promoter played by Kevin Hart has a proposition for the two aging enemies. Because national interest has resulted from a YouTube feature about them, a company is interested in staging a bout between Sharp and McDonnen that will earn solid money for each of them and finally provide closure on their boxing rivalry.
Redemption of one sort or other would appear to be at hand, if only these two ex-palookas can get in shape.
Peter Segal, most but not all of whose directorial résumé is comprised of Adam Sandler comedies (The Longest Yard, 50 First Dates, Anger Management, Get Smart, Tommie Boy), keeps things appropriately lighthearted and folksy, and provides a satisfying entertainment by knowing his film’s strengths (humor) and weaknesses (depth), and stressing the former while not worrying too much about the latter.
Segal gets strong, natural work from his two leads, solid supporting efforts from Basinger, Hart, Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J, and especially the incomparable Arkin, who gets a laugh with every utterance.
The serviceable screenplay by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman has plenty of plot and affords ample screen time for many of the secondary characters. And the inevitable nods to the previous films and long-established personas of his two principals crop up but are not distracting or overdone.
So we’ll pummel 3 stars out of 4. Grudge Match has a familiar ring to it, literally and figuratively, but — unlike the two senior boxers on display — goes down easy.