Brian Henry Martin at the movies

'Two Old Guys Fighting'

Published Thursday, 23 January 2014
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Ageing Bull versus Rocky Glaucoma? Has somebody knocked me silly? Or am I really watching 70 year old Robert De Niro bashing 67 year old Sylvester Stallone in the boxing ring? Is this a joke?

Well, new film Grudge Match is supposed to be a comedy, but sadly I'm not laughing.

De Niro and Stallone play Billy "The Kid" McDonnen and Henry "Razor" Sharp, two retired Pittsburgh fighters whose fierce 1980's rivalry has been put on hold. But then thirty years after their final bout, fast-talking promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), makes them an offer they can't refuse. Soon, the worse of enemies are back in training for a fast buck and a big fight to settle their bitter score once and for all.

Joining this scrappy caper is a knockout supporting cast including the acerbic Alan Arkin as Razor's dad and trainer Lightning, hard-nosed Jon Bernthal as Billy's long lost son B.J. and the delectable Kim Basinger as Sally, an old flame who had her heart broke by both boxers.

"This is embarrassing"quips trainer Frankie Brite (played by LL Cool J) "A great performer knows when to get off the stage. Where's your dignity?" One can't help feeling that Frank, is frankly talking not about Billy and Razor but really about De Niro and Stallone. I'm all for long careers, but ultimately watching two sweaty topless pensioners beat seven bells out of each other is even too much for me.

It is a truly bad sign when you catch yourself looking at your watch in the cinema. My first glance came thirty minutes in and then sadly every ten minutes thereafter. As a comedy, Grudge Match is a completely pointless mess where the punchlines swing well wide of the mark. Director Peter Segal, whose previous dud farce was Get Smart, this time gets dumb. No crass geriatric joke is too low including a De Niro breaking wind scene. Icon farts, really?

This is surely one of cinemas greatest mysteries, why Robert De Niro is obsessed with making desperate comedies? There seems to be at least two a year, each one more dreadful and unfunny than the last. Stand-up comics eventually stand down when the gags fall flat, but De Niro continues clowning unabated.

The best scenes in this bad movie are between Stallone and Kim Basinger, who looks fabulous at 60. Their genuine chemistry suggests a finer film without De Niro's comic bad timing. And I'm sure they could have improvised better dialogue than what they were given.

There's only one thing worse than watching two washed up boxers slugging it out in the ring, and that's watching two great movie stars slugging it out with a bad script on screen. So never mind Grudge Match, this is a sludge mismatch. If only I had brought a towel with me, I would have thrown it at the screen.


Grudge Match (Cert 12a) is now on general release.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.

Twice.

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