Some movie premises can make even the most stalwart of movie fans cringe at their very mention and the one about the two retired athletes coming out of retirement for one last chance is one that has been done to death and it's a little embarrassing how tired it is. So imagine my surprise when this latest iteration actually worked. "Grudge Match" is a charming little comedy about second chances and never giving up in life that managed to rise above what could have easily been a tired, paint by numbers inspirational comedy.
"Grudge Match" is the story of a rivalry 30 years in the making as a pair of boxing rivals (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro) get coaxed out of retirement by the son of their former promoter (Kevin Hart) for one final bout. While both men have their own reasons, after all this time neither man has been able to shake their genuine dislike for the other.
This should have been some tired, clichéd crap that we've seen get run through the Hollywood mill on countless occasions, but it isn't and "Grudge Match" manages to rise above thanks to some great execution and some stellar supporting performances that held it all together.
Director Peter Segal is a veteran of a variety of comedies, some even sports themed that haven't necessarily lit the world on fire, but they have all been well executed and well paced stories and he continues that trend here. Segal follows both of his leads with a gentle touch, never making fun of them (he lets the supporting players do that) but it never takes a mocking tone with any of the events that unfold on the screen. Not all of the jokes in the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman and nearly as well as they hope, but it does at least build somewhat of a credible back story to why these guys hate each other and it has an energy to it that is kind of infectious while watching it and some of the ensemble really picked up on that and elevated the film to another level.
Stallone and De Niro as these old time rivals are certainly fine and play off each other well enough with the occasional one-liner and sharp zinger but both are almost props and straight men for the brilliant supporting work delivered by the likes of Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart. Arkin does his best to capture the spirit of Burgess Meredith who played "Mickey" in the Rocky movies with making it an imitation and he brings his trademark charm and wit to the role while Kevin Hart does what he does best and fast talks himself at a mile a minute as the Dante Slate Jr looking to get out from underneath the shadow of his father who screwed over both men financially when they were in their primes. Both men carry the comedy with aplomb and are the primary reason to watch this one. Jon Bernthal & Kim Basinger round out the emotional side of the cast as both these men have to deal with issues from their past.
Picture and sound quality on this BD combo pack are certainly good enough and the special features include 3 behind the scenes featurettes, going ringside for a talk with Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and going "Blow by Blow" with Larry Holmes. Along with an alternate opening and two alternate endings.
At the end of the day, "Grudge Match" doesn't veer too far away from the standard formula but it hits all the right notes to make it an enjoyable 115 minutes on your couch.
3 out of 5 stars.