Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Grudge Match

I'll be honest... There's not a lot to say about Grudge Match. If you've seen the trailer, you get the basic gist of the movie. And if my fall at the movies is any indication, you've seen the trailer; it played before darn near every single movie I went to over the past few months. The really impressive thing is that it never got old or annoying for me, from the basic statement of the idea to the last couple of zings between Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart.

It's a demonstration of how, as I say below, the movie has a pretty good premise and cast (whom I suspect were part of the premise from the start), but not a great script; the two-minute preview hits most of the notes the audience wants hit and in a livelier manner than the movie can. It just needed more stuff to fill out a feature-length comedy, and the writers didn't seem to have much in the way of ideas.

Oh, and one other thing: As the two main characters are coming out for their match at the end, "Shipping Up to Boston" plays for the De Niro character, and... What? This movie has such a solid Pittsburgh identity (despite being mostly filmed in Louisiana, but never mind that), why do you go with that? Sure, I guess it's the most popular Irish-American song you can think of right now, but that also just highlights how weird it is to have De Niro playing an Irish-American guy. Let's face it, you're casting these parts based on everything else the actors bring to them, and De Niro doesn't bring "Irish". Heck, no matter how many times they referred to him by the name "McDonnen", it just failed to register; I figured I was mis-hearing some more Italian name.

That happened for everyone else, right?

Grudge Match

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 December 2013 at Capitol Theatre #3 (first-run, 2K DCP)

At many, many, many points in Grudge Match, it gets very easy to wonder if anybody involved really thought this through beyond the high-concept casting of the stars of Rocky and Raging Bull as boxing rivals set up for a rematch thirty-odd years later. The good news is that not only did the filmmakers get that ideal casting, but at some point the actors decided to take a little bit of the "we're old, but we've still got some pride" message to heart and make a bit of effort.

Rocky's Sylvester Stallone plays Henry "Razor" Sharp, while Robert De Niro plays Billy "The Kid" McDonnen, both Pittsburgh natives who had a pair of memorable fights in the early 1980s and were set for a rematch when Razor suddenly retired. Now, Razor is a steelworker whose only connection to boxing is visiting his old trainer Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin) in the retirement home, while McDonnen trades off his fame at various small businesses. A story on ESPN has their late promoter's son Dante Jr. (Kevin Hart) hustling to get them in a video game, which becomes a rematch, even though they're even older than Foreman was during his comebacks. And in case there wasn't enough drama, Sharp's ex-girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger) and McDonnen's son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) return to their lives.

That's a great cast, and it's a good thing, because there's not a whole lot to the script. It hits on a lot of situations that have some whiskers on them, making macho old-guy jokes and setting up situation that desperate sitcom writers might avoid because they've got at least a little bit of pride. There's not really a "ha, that's clever!" moment in the entire movie, although to its credit, there also aren't many times when things feel sloppy. Yes, many situations are predictable or convenient, but writers Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman stitch them together fairly well.

Full review at EFC.

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