Marginally better than Rocky and Raging Bullwinkle

While I take no enjoyment watching the real-life act of people pummelling each other – aka a sport known as boxing – the pugilist’s pursuit has always been ripe for cinematic interpretation.

Without question, the two best examples are Sylvester Stallone’s emotionally undercut, everyman drama Rocky (1976), and Martin Scorsese’s implosive, French New Wave-inspired Raging Bull (1980). Each film, while distinguished in its own right, complements the other in traditional yin and yang fashion: the former’s gooey, soft-hearted centre colliding with the latter’s themes of savagery and familial rampage. But what happens when you bring these two bruisers back into the ring together? You get the entertaining yet wholly unnecessary Grudge Match – aka Stallone vs DeNiro: The Geriatric Years.

The two Hollywood heavyweights star as boxing rivals Frank ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (DeNiro). Their 30-year rivalry is one for the Pittsburgh sporting history books. After both fighters won a match apiece, Razor cancelled the deciding bout under mysterious circumstances. Since then, Razor has been thrown on the scrapheap, working as a gruff, lonesome steel worker while the prodigal womaniser McDonnen has opened a bar where he drunkenly whisks the night away, telling his clientele about the good old days.

With Razor strapped for cash and the Kid on a bloodthirsty quest for vengeance, they step back into the ring for one last fight. After an altercation during a corny promo for the match  goes viral, the conclusion of the ageing duo’s 30-year squabble turns into a sold-out, pay-per-view arena event.

Even if the premise is a little pathetic, the results are surprisingly fun to watch. Director Peter Segal manages to squeeze two machismo figures of American populist cinema together on the same screen, and they spend the film mocking each other with pleasing, arthritic bonhomie. Crammed full of dad-jokes, exasperated training montages, repenting patriarchy and a mawkish love triangle subplot (with Hollywood’s old flame Kim Basinger), like Stallone’s on-going Expendables saga, Grudge Match is anachronistic, silly and all the better for it.

Grudge Match (11)
Dir: Peter Segal; US comedy, 2013, 113 minutes; Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger
Premiered January 9
Playing Nationwide