While Stallone hasn’t been out of the boxing ring that long, cinematically speaking (“Rocky Balboa” 2006), De Niro hasn’t starred in a boxing movie since “Raging Bull” way back in 1980.
Neither has had a decent hit at the box office in a while, with Stallone churning out bomb after bomb. Even his “Expendables” movie and its sequel haven’t really burned up the box office.
And De Niro’s schlocky comedies and cheap paycheck grabbing turns in nearly any movie that comes his way has seemingly started to tarnish his legacy.
But when you put the two of them together in a movie, they work. And the movie works.
Stallone plays Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and De Niro plays Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. In the ’80s, they were at the top of the boxing game and fought each other with ‘The Kid’ winning by decision.
During their rematch, ‘Razor’ knocked him out then retired out of nowhere, leaving the third deciding fight to linger in oblivion.
The move ended both of their careers with ‘The Kid’ endorsing anything from underwear to jock itch spray and eventually opening a restaurant and a car dealership.
‘Razor’ went back to work at a steel plant where he was employed before becoming a championship boxer. He lives in a small, dilapidated house under a bridge in Philadelphia and tries to pay for his former trainer’s (Alan Arkin) nursing home stay. More on Arkin later.
‘Razor’ is pretty broke because of some shady promotion dealings with the late Dante Slate.
Slate Jr. (played by Kevin Hart) shows up one day to broker a deal to have their likeness’ portrayed in a video came and needs him to show up for a few hours to do some motion capture for the game, and that’s when ‘The Kid’ shows up to talk trash and demand ‘Razor’ answer for never giving him a third fight.
They brawl during the session, and everyone records the whole thing on their cell phones, and it becomes a hit on YouTube, which in turn revitalizes the public’s interest in a grudge match between the two 30 years after their last fight.
There’s some subplots that run through the story of two old guys trying to get back in shape which work nicely to get the actors actually acting again.
This is perhaps the best acting Stallone has done in quite some time. So much so that some might have forgot he actually could act.
De Niro is always good, no matter what cut-rate film he’s in, but the scenes between the two of them really elevate each other’s game.
Sure, the film is funny, but the old man jokes get a little tiring pretty fast, so it’s a good thing when the drama shows through, and the audience realizes it’s more than just a couple of old guys trying to train and put their bitter past behind them.
There’s a few funny winks at the two leads’ previous boxing movies, but nothing that takes you out of the world into which you’re brought.
There are also some truly touching moments throughout the film.
Jon Bernthal (Shane from “The Walking Dead”) plays B.J., ‘The Kid’s’ estranged son and delivers a great, though a little by-the-numbers, performance. But he definitely works here.
And when Alan Arkin shows up, he steals the show.
He’s been in a few comedies, and even when he’s in dramas, he still delivers one-liners like no one else in the business. But here, he’s completely on the loose and incredibly hilarious. You can’t help but wait for what’s coming out of his mouth next. He knocks this one out of the park.
Kevin Hart was a surprise. He’s like a toned down, less annoyingly voiced Chris Tucker. He has a promising career ahead of him off the stand-up stage for sure.
And perhaps the reason this movie does work so well is Peter Segal’s directing. He’s most known for directing “50 First Dates” and “Get Smart” but plays this one pretty close to his vest, even if it is a comedy.
He really gets these characters and realizes the talent he has in front of him and allows them to bloom on screen and do what they do best.
It’d be interesting to see him do a straight drama because it feels as if he can pull it off.
“Grudge Match” is a lot more than just a boxing movie. It’s a story of redemption on many levels and about forgiveness, both in and out of the ring to which many will relate.
And plus, you have Rocky Balboa fighting Jake La Motta. What else do you want?
“Grudge Match” is playing at Rio 6 Cinemas, 806 E. Houston St. in Beeville.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.