Armed with a high concept about two former boxers finally getting a shot at settling their decades-long rivalry, as well as two American actors who starred in the most iconic boxing movies of the last 40 years (Rocky and Raging Bull), Peter Segal's Grudge Match should have been an example of mirth-filled nostalgia. Instead, screenwriters Rodney Rothman and Tim Kelleher have packed the film with more dramatic beats than comedy, and the result will make viewers want to throw in the towel.
Sylvester Stallone plays Henry "Razor" Sharp, a promising light heavyweight who quit the fighting game after winning his second and seemingly final match with Billy "the Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro), which evened the score after Kid knocked him out in their first bout. Now in his sixties, Razor works an unsteady blue-collar job, primarily to pay for the nursing-home bills of his crotchety former trainer Louis (Alan Arkin). Kid became a local restaurant owner and celebrity, but his entire life he's wanted one more shot at Razor, because both men know that Kid was nowhere near his best in the fight Razor won.
When Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of Razor and Kid's old promoter, offers a six-figure payday to the two AARP members if they'll square off against each other once again, the deal proves too enticing for the physically worn-down men to refuse.
All of this has the making of a lean, light 90-minute comedy about senior citizens trying to recapture their youth -- not unlike De Niro's film from earlier in 2013, Last Vegas. However, instead of playing up the comedy, Grudge Match throws in a number of serious subplots: Razor's complicated love for the woman who came between the two men, Kid's troubled relationship with the son he's never met, and the genuine anger and regret that the characters feel about growing older. None of this is given much depth; the characters are thin, although the actors do what they can with such limited material. Additionally, since we know that the whole point of this movie is to see Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta in the ring throwing punches at each other, all of the supposed obstacles to the fight are entirely unbelievable -- neither the people nor the situation build enough tension to sustain our interest.
While the filmmakers failed to put on the screen any memorable comedic moments -- wasting Alan Arkin is unthinkable -- or credible dramatic ones, they did find time to stuff the film full of product placement. It's obvious that Budweiser, HBO, Geritol, Under Armour, and Jockey helped pay for this movie because each gets prominent screen time, often in multiple scenes, and as the final credits roll you'll remember the names of those companies better than you will those of any of the characters other than Kid and Razor. All of this makes Grudge Match a miserable experience made for cynical reasons that trades on audience goodwill without giving anything back. You want to see Stallone and De Niro act opposite each other? Go rent Cop Land.