Skip to main content

I’m not putting my hands in horse urine!

Grudge Match
(2013)

I have to admit, I though the conceit of Grudge Match was a pretty good one. It’s difficult to tell if it bombed because everyone else thought differently, or it was simply that the finished picture is frequently on the ropes. Maybe the Stallone renaissance was so 2007, or maybe the puzzled one was trying his hand at his most rewarding genre; comedy. Maybe the most interesting thing about a De Niro performance these days is how much his nose has grown over the past decade. Grudge Match isn’t actively bad, well sometimes it is, but it’s obvious in the most tiresome of ways. A movie that might have been quite clever and sparky just coasts on automatic pilot.


Old guys movies have been in fully aging swing recently, but they haven’t been finding the audience of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Probably because they want to be debauched and crude rather than gentle and heart-warming; others include Stand up Guys and Last Vegas (that one did reasonably well). Commonly they have found once-great performers slumming it with sloppy scripts and stodgy scenarios. This one has the irresistible pitch of Rocky vs Raging Bull (despite the unlikelihood of their respective weights with regard to such a bout).


Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sly) was beaten by Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Bobby) in 1982. Then Razor emerged victorious in a 1984 fight and subsequently retired (because The Kid slept with his girlfriend Sally, Kim Basinger). Since then, The Kid has petulantly chewed over his desire for a deciding rematch; he runs a car dealership and owns a bar so he doesn’t need the money, it’s all about his pride. He also does stand-up (see what they did they’re; they’re so clever, these writer guys!) Stallone, meanwhile, is in full blue-collar mode devoting his time to the shipyard like Springsteen never went out of fashion. So the lines are familiar straightaway; De Niro playing up the boorish wiseguy persona while Stallone does the noble warrior thing. Both these guys fought in ‘Nam, though. Ain’t that something. No cliché left unchecked.


Along for the supporting roles are Alan Arkin as Razor’s old trainer. No matter how hopeless the material, Arkin emerges unscathed (just as he did in Stand Up Guys), and here his surly banter with Kevin Hart’s promoter is one of the few parts of the picture that actually ekes laughs (although the less said about the “hilarious” bucket of horse piss, the better). LL Cool J pops up in a role that involves having his arse handed to him by an old guy, so he must be desperate for cash or have lost all sense of pride (NCIS: Los Angeles will probably do that to you). 


Jon Bernthal retains dignity as The Kid’s son, although to be honest he could have equally played Razor’s. Bernthal’s a great actor, and if someone really has to remake Escape from New York they couldn’t go wrong with him. He also has a precocious brat of a son allowing for antics with Granddad Bob (much of which revolve around an extremely poor taste blow job gag). Basinger has the thankless girlfriend role (with the honour of draping herself over sweaty old Stallone) although she looks fantastic for 60, which must be some compensation.


The plot follows the expected course; reluctance to get back in the ring (on Razor’s part), followed by training montage bullshit (The Kid is out of shape, not that you’d ever have thought it looking at De Niro). Right on cue, when it looks as if everything is looking good pre-fight, everything has to fall apart before to instil some “tension” into the decision to fight after all. There are also supposed to be whole barrels of laughs involved but Peter Segal’s never been the kind of director to settle for comedy gold, not when pleasantly predictable will do. Tim Kelleher co-wrote the screenplay with Rodney Rothman; the former’s credentials, as a Two and a Half Men stalwart, are impugnable, but we might expect more from Rothman who has worked with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.


The movie is as full of adolescent vulgarity, much of it involving the aging process, as a PG-13/12A will allow. It’s akin to a “family” Adam Sandler movie, or one of those cash-grab Ben Stiller efforts. Utterly characterless. In that sense, one might expect it to do reasonably well, although both their stars have been on the wane of late too. Arkin can almost make it fly (“Man, are you going to be feisty when you hit puberty” he tells Hart). Stallone reminds us that he was only ever any good in comedies when he played the straight man; don’t waste good lines on him (although, with the likes of “Isn’t anybody here going to rape this guy?” he isn’t exactly being thrown pearls). De Niro has so little shame left, he even does a Dancing with the Stars bit.


Everyone learns something from their experience, which is nice; they go into it for the money but come out with something even better. Love, and family. And money. It’s the American Dream, or retch. The makers clearly didn’t learn that a Mike Tyson cameo is a very bad thing, however. His continued veneration is mystifying. As for the match, the only means of making it remotely convincing is having Razor blind in one eye, and even that doesn’t do the trick. Sly’s steroids are going to outmatch De Niro’s 70-year old moobs any day. I’m most likely making the picture out to be worse than it is, but it’s so utterly pedestrian and formulaic on every level that it deserves recriminations for the waste of the talent involved and the decent kernel of an idea at its centre. If you want to see a decent De Niro/Stallone movie, check out Copland.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.