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Henry "Razor" Sharp and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen are two boxers who thirty years ago were rivals. Just before a big match Razor decides to retire because Billy slept with his girlfriend, Sally Rose and got her pregnant. Today a promoter, Dante Slate wants to have them fight each other but Razor doesn't want to. But when he loses his job and learns he's broke, he has no choice. So he trains under his old trainer. Billy while training, meets B.J., the son he had with Sally Rose and he asks B.J. to train him. And Sally Rose tries to get Razor to forgive her but he can't. Written by
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Hello again, everybody, I'm Jim Lampley. Certain athletes are born enemies. Bird and Magic. Ali and Frazier. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. But the fiercest rivalry was be between two fighters from Pittsburgh with the names Razor and Kid.
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Barely a minute after he shows up on screen, silver screen legend Robert De Niro utters the immortal words: "I didn't have a groin itch - I'm just a great actor!" Whether you find that hilarious or tragic will probably determine your reaction to the well-intentioned but painfully mediocre Grudge Match.
The grudge of the film's title is the one that has lasted for decades between Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Sylvester Stallone). In their prime, the two men were the talk of the boxing world. Kid won their first match, Razor their second - but, before their final face-off, Razor quit boxing. Fast-forward thirty years: Kid remains a publicity-hungry Lothario, furious that he never got a chance to prove he was the better fighter; Razor works in a steel mill and is struggling to make ends meet. Neither can refuse when the opportunity to get back into the ring presents itself.
The draw of the film, of course, is to see Jake 'Raging Bull' LaMotta and Rocky Balboa duke it out in the ring. De Niro knows it, Stallone knows it, we know it. Both men gamely play off and send up the iconic characters they played decades ago, cheekily winking at - or desecrating, depending on your point of view - their respective cinematic legacies. Actually, it would all be somewhat thrilling if the script weren't so predictable and sluggish.
Like most of the comedies De Niro finds himself slumming in these days, Grudge Match has a few fun moments (standout: a mile-high publicity stunt) and a handful of good lines. It even gets better as it goes along, kind of - the two prickly protagonists arrive at an understanding that makes more emotional sense than you might expect.
But the film as a whole plods by, half ribald comedy, half brooding drama, and never presents either of its leads with moments that they're fully capable of making memorable. Instead, it gently embarrasses them, pressing home the point that they're not as young as they once were by flinging (bad) jokes about iPads, hearing aids and old-man boobs in their direction, while stuffing them into ungainly motion-capture suits.
To their credit, both De Niro and Stallone show up dutifully for work. They are, at least, worth the watch. De Niro takes the more broadly comedic part, and manfully tries to create a credible relationship with his new-found son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) and grandson Trey (Camden Grey). Stallone manages to dig up some grace notes in his scenes with 'Lightning' (Alan Arkin), his doddering old trainer, and Sally (Kim Basinger), the woman who stirred up even more trouble between Razor and Kid back in the day.
Even so, it's hard to watch Grudge Match without a lingering sense of disappointment. The material is nowhere near as good as the two lead actors deserve, and persists in undercutting them in ways that probably seemed funny on paper but are simply sad in the cinema. At one point in the film, a physical trainer yells at De Niro, "A good performer knows when to get offstage!", followed shortly by, "Where's your sense of dignity?" In a movie like this one, it's hard to take that moment in a purely fictional sense.
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