The script for Grudge Match existed before stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro were attached. What a stroke of luck then that the two actors signed on, given their history of boxing in movies with Stallone in Rocky and De Niro in Raging Bull. Each won an Oscar for their respective boxing films and to see them come together in Grudge Match is a unique idea to say the least.
Stallone plays Henry “Razor” Sharp and De Niro is Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen. The two were bitter rivals, both out of Pittsburgh, over 30 years ago. They fought twice, each notching a victory. On the eve of their third fight, Razor surprisingly retired and each has spent the last three decades wondering, “What if?”
When the two have a brawl in neon green motion suits recording moves for a video game that goes viral, the demand for a rematch heats up. McDonnen wants it badly, Sharp not so much. See, something happened before that third fight back in the day that has Sharp possessing an unmatched disdain for his former rival that goes deeper than boxing. And it still lingers.
Kevin Hart plays the son of the promoter who put together the original fights and he could not be more persuasive in his effort to get these two men back in the ring. As seen in the Grudge Match trailer, it clearly happens. But the fun in Grudge Match is how the two men, and their subsequent family and friends, make the journey to a ring of redemption.
Director Peter Segal told us that when he received the script he pumped up several elements of the story and the film is better because of it. One aspect that is particularly charming is the storyline between McDonnen and the adult son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) he just learned he has. The chemistry between Bernthal and De Niro is as real as it gets. It’s fantastic to see Bernthal blowing up of late with his roles in The Wolf of Wall Street, Mob City and Grudge Match after he was killed off The Walking Dead!
For Stallone’s Sharp, the heartwarming storyline arrives in the form of an attempted rekindled relationships with Kim Basinger’s Sally and his former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin). See, that’s the most surprising aspect of the entire Grudge Match experience, is that it has some serious heart. And it pays off in droves when the two men finally get in the ring for the last part of the film. All the emotions that were touched on throughout by Segal and his cast come to a satisfying fruition by the time that final bell sounds.
Our Grudge Match review knows that this is lighter fare when it comes to the long lineage of boxing movies. But for the holiday season where movies can be anything but light, as they vie for last second Oscar attention, the De Niro and Stallone boxing rematch of old titans is just the Christmas treat many audiences crave.