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23° & PARTLY CLOUDY ON WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL IN SYDNEY
By Lee Zachariah
January 27, 2014
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Grudge Match

Rocky vs Raging Bull is a great idea for a poster. A film? Not quite so much.
By Lee Zachariah
January 27, 2014
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Ex-boxer Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) is reluctantly lured out of retirement to settle old scores with long-time personal and professional rival Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (Robert De Niro) in an exhibition fight. The pair must resolve a disputed match from 30 years earlier, as well as the fact that they were both in love with the same woman, Sally (Kim Basinger).

The inciting concept for this film is right there on the uncanny valley-esque photoshopped poster: it's Rocky vs Raging Bull! (Colleagues assure me that others have beaten me to the Rocky and Raging Bullwinkle gags, so there's really little pleasure to be gained here.)

You have to wonder what they would have done if De Niro or Stallone had said no. Although given the last decade or so of their respective careers, perhaps this wasn't a huge concern. But one need only imagine the producers turning to, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Pacino to realise that the film's sole purpose for existing is its very specific casting.

Perhaps the Alan Arkin mentor role was originally offered to Kirk Douglas, whose boxer Midge Kelly feature in 1949's Champion. But like Stallone's Expendables franchise, the idea of De Niro and Stallone settling old scores in a boxing ring is an idea that would have been far more exciting about 20 years ago. In 2013, it feels like an afterthought.

It's an odd compliment to give a comedy, but I'm going to do it anyway: I like that it's not all that funny. Some of the jokes work, but most fall flat. What's heartening about this is that the film is confident to go for long stretches where they don't even try for a laugh. You can easily imagine the alternate version in which it's simply wall-to-wall bad jokes, and you become thankful you're not watching that version. The ratio of drama to comedy is an odd one, as if the movie can't decide which genre it wants to plant its flag in. It shouldn't work, but sort-of does.

If this feels like muted praise, it's deliberate. Grudge Match is one of those ideas that works as a passing joke rather than an actual film, and the finished product should be a gigantic car crash. But the film's brazenness is admirable — it knows why it exists, and wastes no time apologising for the fact — and it is possible to have a good time with it. Just make sure your expectations are suitably lowered first.

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