Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A one-two punch of insult followed by injury

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Want an example of a movie that is spectacularly less than the sum of its parts?

Grudge Match

Starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro

McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne


113 minutes

11Ñ2 stars out of five

Merry Christmas.

Grudge Match pits facsimiles of Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta (Sylvester Stallone as "Razor" Sharp and Robert De Niro as "Kid" McDonnen) as near-elderly pugilists who accept the challenge to a three-decades-late rematch to settle old scores.

Directed by Peter Segal, the film does not shy away from association with the much better movies that inspired the matchup. Remember Rocky with its gruelling training montages, its raw-egg drinking, and the use of a side of beef as a punching bag? It's all here, albeit skewed for cheap laughs of recognition.

Martin Scorsese's 1980 biopic Raging Bull offered less comic fodder in a story that emphasized La Motta's psychopathic jealousy. So Segal and screenwriters Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman content themselves with a bit in which the retired McDonnen takes to a nightclub stage, la La Motta, to engage in some spurious trash-talking comedy alongside a ventriloquist's dummy. Possibly, they intended to convey the existential horror of bad standup comedy. If that was the case, mission accomplished.

There is a convoluted plot in here. The two palookas detest each other over an incident 30 years previous. Kid slept with Razor's girlfriend and got her pregnant. So when an ambitious boxing promoter (Kevin Hart is one of the only people in this movie capable of winning authentic laughs) stages a long-delayed grudge match, that ex-girlfriend, Sally (Kim Basinger), re-emerges to reconcile with the broken-hearted Razor.

At the same time, her son BJ (Jon Bernthal), reaches out to his biological father Kid, not only to help train him for the upcoming bout, but to introduce him to the grandson he never knew he had.

If this sounds in any way touching, bear in mind there will be a lot of inappropriate jokes about the initials BJ told in the child's vicinity. It's almost as squirm-inducing as the tot's ringside presence during the climactic bout.

Expect to endure as much discomfort as the fighters during training. If you've ever seen a Stallone action movie, you're already familiar with some gratuitous scenes in which he is obliged to speak to women to show off his tender side -- you know, between bloodlettings. You'll find those scenes here, too. And, hey, they are no less mortifying in a comedy.

Stallone has much better chemistry with Alan Arkin as his elderly-but-sassy trainer Louis (Lightning) Conlon who, like Hart, actually delivers on the film's promise of laughs, such as they are.

As for De Niro, let's just say it's disappointing that, in a single year, he is so willing to trade on past glories -- Raging Bull and Goodfellas -- to deliver such mediocre fare along the lines of Grudge Match and The Family.

All the best in 2014, Bob. Here's hoping your upcoming movies will be bold and original, and not dying echoes of past triumphs.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2013 D3

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