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DeNiro, left, and Stallone.

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DeNiro, left, and Stallone.

Grudge Match

 

This boxing comedy pits facsimiles of Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta -- Sylvester Stallone as Henry (Razor) Sharp and Robert De Niro as Billy (The Kid) McDonnen -- as near-elderly pugs who each 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 Rocky and Raging Bull, the much better movies that inspired the match-up, especially the former, with its gruelling training montages, its raw-egg-drinking, and the use of a side of beef as a punching bag.

The two palookas detest each other over an incident 30 years earlier. Kid slept with Razor's girlfriend and got her pregnant. So when an ambitious boxing promoter (Kevin Hart) 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 B.J. (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 made in the child's vicinity about the initials B.J. It's almost as squirm-inducing as the tot's ringside presence during the climactic bout.

Stallone has some comic chemistry with Alan Arkin as his elderly-but-sassy trainer Louis (Lightning) Conlon. Between them, Arkin and 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 -- that result in such mediocre fare along the lines of Grudge Match and The Family.

Way to KO the career, Bob. 1 1/2

 

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

 

Pardon the ethnic metaphor, but The Marked Ones gives a tequila shot to a franchise that was starting to feel like a white wine spritzer halfway into losing its fizz.

The fifth instalment, which may be more of a spinoff than a proper sequel, offers a change-up from the usual PA movie: less lingering dread, more action.

Instead of being set in another white-bread suburban McMansion, the setting is a Latino community in Los Angeles, where a young man named Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is graduating from high school. He and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) enjoy speculating about the strange old woman who lives in the apartment beneath Jesse's home, given the occasional screams and moans emanating from her place. Their suspicions she may be a bruja -- a witch -- are confirmed when they send their video camera down a heating vent to witness a weird ritual involving a naked woman and the application of the circle-within-a-triangle symbol denoting the coven referred to in the last two films.

But when the bruja is murdered by a most unlikely killer, the two friends and Jesse's not-quite girlfriend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) are compelled to dig deeper into her death. It emerges that Jesse, now in possession of inexplicable powers, has been the object of the dead woman's attention since birth. And as his powers increase, Jesse's personality undergoes a terrible change.

The change in Paranormal Activity? Not so terrible.

The thrills and found-footage esthetic are there, especially in the unusually action-packed denouement. But the additions of humour, sex and a time-warp-y wrinkle give some much-needed texture to a franchise that was getting a little stale, especially in the dull, redundant fourth instalment from 2012.

This chapter deliberately plays to the franchise's large Latino fan base. But in the process, writer-director Christopher Landon, who wrote all the PA sequels, connects with everyone else eager to get past the white-kids-in-peril tropes and a glacially paced approach to revealing the supernatural mythology behind the jump-scares. 3 stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 C15

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