Film Review: Grudge Match (USA, 2014)


Take two of Hollywood’s heavy-weight legendary actors, both who’ve previously starred in boxing related films, throw in as many nods as you can to the sport, as well as a good helping of comedy and a little drama and that pretty much is Grudge Match.

Two aging boxers Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) have had a lifelong resentment against each other both in the ring and out of it. After both rising to the top of the game in their younger days Sharp abruptly retires from the sport, leaving McDonnen hanging for one final match to determine a victor. Now 30 years on and both in their 70’s they’re living respectable albeit mundane lives until the son of their former promoter shows up to coax them into one last fight. McDonnen is over-eager, he’s been wanting to redeem himself for a while. Sharp is wary and unwilling to go back into the ring, but when he loses his job at the factory and is bordering on being broke it forces his hand.

As the two begin their attempts at training for the match, Sharp’s old flame Sally (Kim Basinger) returns and it becomes apparent that the whole reason Sharp quit in the first place was because Sally had run off with McDonnen and gotten pregnant. Thus creating this awkward love triangle fire that only becomes even more complex when McDonnen and Sharp’s son B.J (Jon Bernthal) decides to introduce himself to his estranged father. But will Sharp and McDonnen be able to get back in the ring one last time and redeem themselves as fights and as men?

Grudge Match manages to hold its own as a comedy. The notion of two 70 year olds fighting each other is ridiculous in itself but throw in the pair of them wearing motion capture spandex suits punching on and it’s hilarious. Both Stallone and DeNiro are quite adept at doing comedy, the script suits their onscreen and offscreen personas and rarely feels over or under done. It’s pretty obvious that they’re blatantly ripping off the Rocky/Raging Bull connections too, but this isn’t meant to be an homage to the sport or those earlier films. We get the training montages of old guys struggling to get in shape, raw egg drinks, and the young African-American promoter who’s all sass, talks way too fast and determined to make a fast buck. The shiny piece of gold in this film is Alan Arkin as the well-worn trainer for Stallone’s Sharp, and manages to perfect the father-figure with a pin prick wit and no-nonsense attitude, stealing every scene he’s in.

The parts I struggled with the most was seeing Stallone and Basinger interact. The supposed drama and romance between the former lovers just felt awkward and too saccharine and for some reason I just can’t take Stallone seriously as a heartbroken man. Basinger out of the big names in this film had minimal screen time which was probably a blessing since her character seems so lacklustre too. On the other hand, Jon Bernthal (best known to most as Shane from hit tv series The Walking Dead) did a surprisingly good job of carrying the rest of the dramatic scenes paired up with DeNiro.

As a son trying to bond with the father he never knew, he manages to equally balance the desire to want to get to know him with the cautiousness of somebody who knows he doesn’t need him in his life. Unfortunately this whole scenario does make for an awkward family triangle of sorts, which feels uncomfortable all-round, it probably would’ve been less ungainly if Bernthal’s character wasn’t the son of Basinger’s character, and they had kept those two mini-storylines separate. In saying that though it would potentially detract any comedic value from the notion of such a dysfunctional family unit.

There’s plenty of laughs to be had in this film, so long as you temper expectations and enjoy the chemistry between the two leads and don’t mistakenly go into the film hoping for lots of fighting.


Running Time: 113 minutes

Grudge Match is out now through Roadshow Films


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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.