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If fifty is the new thirty, then what does that make sixty?  In the new comedy, Grudge Match, we’re told that hitting the senior decade does not automatically put one out to pasture and neither does it necessarily make one any wiser.

Billy "The Kid" McDonnen was a contender, but that was a very long time ago.  Now in his sixties, the former boxing champ has leveraged his fame into a lucrative career as - what else? - a used car salesman and is still regarded as a minor local celebrity.  While Billy is doing well, his greatest pugilistic rival, Henry "Razor" Sharp is facing the plight of many Americans when he and his fellow shipyard workers are laid off.  It’s at this low time that Dante, a wily boxing promoter, tempts the two men with the proposition of ending their decades-old in-ring feud once and for all.  The idea of the sixty-year-olds getting into fighting trim for a bout that would be worth any viewer’s while is utterly ridiculous; especially to the boxers themselves.  However, the idea of resolving their professional and personal rivalry, the lure of financial gain and perhaps some recaptured glory eventually hooks the geriatric gladiators.  Refusing to be thwarted by the world’s mockery, Dante’s social media skills come into play and after his YouTube clips of some candid and contentious moments between the old foes go viral, the fight transforms from a laughing stock to being so crazy that it just might work.

It’s odd to think that both the god of acting, Robert De Niro - who made Taxi Driver - and Sylvester Stallone - who made Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot and The Expendables (Entertaining, but not exactly the stuff of Olivier) - both have stood victorious on the Oscar stage: De Niro for Raging Bull and Stallone’s magnum opus, Rocky, won Best Picture of 1976.  It might also be easy to forget that Grudge Match is not the first time these Italian-American icons have appeared together in a film; they costarred in the excellent drama Cop Land in 1997.  These are a couple of old Hollywood lions that have seen it all and the pairing of the two in the very funny Grudge Match is much more successful than one might suppose.  Giving De Niro the flashier, sillier role of the unrepentant reprobate, Billy, who is only too happy to reap the still-abundant spoils of his faded glory, was a good move.  De Niro does seem to like to cut loose (as demonstrated at the expense of a training partner in one gag scene) in his comedies and break away from the intense dramatic roles that are still his hallmark.  Billy’s spent his entire life running from any real responsibility and is fine with that until the day the grown son he’s never met comes through the door.  Even this potentially momentum-killing development is handled with just enough pathos to get across the intended homily about Billy’s wastrel life, but remembering it’s a comedy, doesn’t linger long enough to go saccharine.  Stallone’s Henry is quieter, more solemn and sensible; he would just as soon forget his boxing days, even initially rejecting the guys’ shared femme fatale when she comes back into their lives … initially.  Stallone is best at more backhand humour with a drier delivery, making Henry the perfect contrast to Billy’s broader laughs.  The lines are sharp and so is the sniping back and forth between the two men, fueled in part by the kinetic energy and whipsmart timing of Kevin Hart.  His Dante, the wannabe love child of Don King and Butch Lewis, is the one who pulls the senior citizens into this mess in the first place. 

Yes, there are certainly the jokes about aging that would be expected in a “comedy” involving the AARP sector, but thankfully, they steer fairly clear of Geritol, hip pain or Viagra.  The humour tends to spring more from the characters’ clashing personalities and often from the observations of Henry’s old trainer, Louis "Lightning" Conlon, played by the excellent, acerbic Alan Arkin. With his hats, hearing aid, cardigans and ego-deflating comments to his charge, Lightning seems to be a quasi-tribute to Burgess Meredith’s Rocky manager, Mickey.  There are several in-jokes throughout Grudge Match, like Stallone as Henry imbibing raw eggs and his assumption that his and Lightning’s visit a meat locker is meant for training by punching sides of beef - he is hilariously mistaken.  The dartboard at Billy’s dealership features the face of the 1976-era Stallone as its bull’s-eye, which may have been inspired by the fact that Rocky beat out Taxi Driver as Best Picture that year.  Even the films’ setting of Pittsburgh seems like a reference to Rocky’s beloved Philadelphia.  There is a false note in the romantic triangle involving Billy, Henry and Sally, played by Kim Basinger; we don’t know where this woman who had such a huge role in their lives came from and her scenes with the guys, clearly meant to bring the emotion and regrets aspect into the film, feel obligatory and slow down the momentum.  Still, we have many other mirthful moments such as the guys’ candid opinions on Mixed Martial Arts, “We had a name for guys that kicked when they fought – Girls.”

Grudge Match surprises with its fast-paced, sharp laughs and its atypical take on aging.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Stallone and De Niro take up the mantle of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau for a new generation of battlin’ old dudes comedies if they keep it as self-effacing and entertaining as this.

PS: The Easter Egg at the film’s credits is absolutely perfect.  Maybe those two need a movie, as well.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Dec. 24th, 2013

 

We have our own wee Easter Egg: LMD had the opportunity to sit in on the Grudge Match press conference and asked a question of Sylvester Stallone and Director Peter Segal with a small chime in from Robert De Niro.

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Mr. Stallone, Grudge Match isn’t the first time either yourself or Mr. De Niro have done movies set around a boxing ring.  What is it about that boxing that makes such fertile cinematic ground for telling life stories?

Sylvester Stallone: Well, first of all, I would ask the director why he chose boxing. {To Peter Segal} Why that format?

Peter Segal:  Well, I’ve heard you say the same thing; it’s a metaphor for life:  Life knocks you down and what makes a person is if you can get back up again.  What attracted me to this story was the second chances.  As a matter of fact, only about nine minutes of the movie is really boxing, the rest is about relationships and people; fathers and sons, girls and boys and coming to terms with your age.  I think setting it against the background of boxing seemed really appropriate.

SS:  I agree.  You know, it’s funny, Rocky ... {To Robert De Niro} What was the name of yours again? Raging …

Robert De Niro:  Raging Bull.

SS: Raging Bullwinkle. Nah, I’m just kidding.  I think that they’re not boxing movies or documentaries; they are biographies and these guys happen to be fighters.  But boxing is just… everyone knows what it’s like to be frustrated and wanna fight back on any emotional level and that’s what we pull from.  I just have an affinity for it, so does he {gesturing to De Niro}, so do a lot of people, and that’s why there’s probably more boxing films done than any other kind of film possible.  Except to get probably past the Hays Code where you can basically be in your underwear and sweaty for two hours and you’d get through the code at that time.

And I’d like say, too, because I never got to say it is what really made this thing fly is the inspired casting of Kevin Hart.  It brought in a whole new demographic and it really was inspired casting.  It’s one thing to see grumpy old men fight, then you bring in Kevin Hart and I thought, “Wow!” Of course, Kim Basinger brings in the sensuality to it.  So, I thought it was very, very clever.  He could just yawn and it’s funny. You know what I mean? It just does it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

Exclusive Photos by LMD

Stills Courtesy of  Warner Bros

 

 

 

 

 

 

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