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30 years is a long time to hold a grudge

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Grudge Match (film)

Rating:
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Star
Star
Star

Grudge Match: PG-13 (1 hr. 53 minutes)

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Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger, Jon Bernthal

Directed by: Peter Segal

When you talk about a boxing grudge match that has taken 30 years to materialize then you need to know what you are really talking about, when Jake LaMotta (De Niro) and Rocky Balboa (Stallone) finally face off against each other. Yeah, let’s be totally clear about this, on some level, that’s what this film essentially is, watching these two former film boxing powerhouses go at each other. The film Rocky came out in ’76 and Raging Bull in ’80 with each being cinematic high points in the respective careers of Stallone and De Niro, but yet these two stars have never appeared in a film opposite each other. Now they have.

Bet yet we digress.

Some 30 years ago two of the hottest fighters in Pittsburg were Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone), who had a fierce rivalry going on between them that catapulted them in the national spotlight. Each had scored a victory against the other during their heyday — first The Kid bested Razor in an epic 15-round bout then the tables were turned a few months later when Razor KOed the Kid in just four rounds several months later. A third, tie-breaker was announced, but never occurred because Razor suddenly and without explanation simply retired from boxing.

That was back in 1983, and Razorhas continually refused to explain why but the act effectively delivered a knock-out punch to both their careers. In a funny scene that takes place in the present day, a co-worker at the plant where Razor works asks him why he quit. Razor confides in him that it is because he wanted to dance (which is essentially the same response Al Pacino gave to a fellow officer in the 1973 film, Serpico when asked a similar question.) For the most part, Razor is down on his luck, while Kid managed to parley his celebrity status into a a car dealership, a restaurant, and several years of sports and product endorsements. Now, thirty years later, boxing promoter wannabe Dante Slate Jr. (Hart ) whose father managed Razor and apparently managed to swindle him out of copious amounts of money, tries to leverage his name into pitting the two warriors against each other, at least digitally, in a videogame.

He promises each of them a boat load of cash to pose for a video session of each of them throwing punches against a green screen to develop digital avatars, only The Kid arrives early and provokes Razor into a scuffle that is recorded and winds up going viral. This initial encounter, their first in decades, revives the old debate of who would have won the AT third bout. So, seeing big dollar signs Slate makes them an offer they simply can’t refuse: to re-enter the ring and settle the score once and for all. However they may not have to wait quite that long as the sudden social media frenzy transforms that swirls around them and long-standing grudge match makes it a must-see HBO event. Now, if they can each simply survive the training, they may actually live to fight again.

Adding complications into their match-up is the gal they both once loved, Sally (Basinger) who was once Razor’s girl, but had an affair with Kid that resulted in a son, BJ (Bernthal). There is also a stand-out performance by Alan Arkin who as Louis 'Lightning' Conlon essentially reprises Burgess Meredith’s role from Rocky. All –in-all, the film is good fun powered by a heartwarming story wrapped around a classic boxing film, staring a pair of (former) A-list actors who simply refuse to give the ghost on their careers.

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Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.

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