At the outset, when you hear Grudge Match, a film about two aging boxing rivals who are coaxed out of retirement to fight one last time, 30 years after their last match, starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, you would be forgiven for groaning. “Way to try and recycle a tired concept starring some tired actors”, you may think. But actually, at its heart, Grudge Match is quite a heart-warming story about growing old, holding grudges, losing love, getting on with life and picking yourself back up when you fall down.
Stallone is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp, the man who originally ended the rivalry by retiring in his prime and working hard his whole life in a steel mill. De Niro is the cocky opportunist who had his wick in every pot, owns a string of car dealerships and milks his glory days every night in a stand up routine about boxing that he performs at the bar he own. Razor’s trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin) is being kicked out of his nursing home for being a nuisance and Razor, feeling an obligation to his old friend, reluctantly agrees to the fight in order to help get lightning settled somewhere better.
Age-ist jokes ensue (aimed at both the ageing and out of touch, and the young and fallible) but the actors are good-natured about it, and the jokes are never without a justified punch-line (excuse the pun) or some retribution. Arkin is an old-hat (excuse the pun) at playing the senile old man part for it’s best laughs and Stallone and De Niro seem to be having fun playing caricatures of their best known and loved roles, Rocky Balboa and the Raging Bull himself Jake La Motta.
The script is tight and pulls together enough substance to warrant genuine engagement in the outcome for these characters, and director Peter Segal turns his well tuned comedic touch to the film, getting the best out of all his performers. This is a film that will be enjoyed by young and old, but it can at times be brutal (the age of the men involved makes it particularly hard to watch, especially if you don’t like seeing boxers in their prime laying into one another).
Grudge Match won’t exactly go down in history as one of the greats, but I think it will be a surprise favourite for people this year.
Grudge Match is in Australian cinemas from 30 January through Roadshow Films.