I had been looking forward to Grudge Match ever since I saw the coming attraction for it a couple of months ago. Starring Sylvester Stallone (now 67) and Robert De Niro (now 70), it promised to be Rocky vs. Raging Bull 30 years later. It promised to be another movie that would lift the spirits of an old man like me, which is why I rushed to see the first showing on Christmas morning, while most people were still home opening gifts. What a disappointment!
I had expected it to continue Hollywood's celebration of the strengths and smarts of old people that began recently with Red, Red 2, and Last Vegas--all films in genres reserved, until now, for young people--espionage thrillers and wild bachelor parties. Grudge Match, I expected, would refit the boxing movie genre for the burgeoning elder boom market. That is certainly what it intended to do. But it failed. I have been trying to figure out why.
I don't think the problem is the story line. Two former light heavyweight boxing champions who had beaten each other once but never had a third fight to settle the score will battle it out in the ring. Robert De Niro's character (The Kid) has become a successful car dealer, restaurant owner, and raconteur. He is still a heavy drinking womanizer with a touch of charm -- a man who never grew up. Sylvester Stallone's character (Razor) is a truly nice guy who has been bilked out of all the money he made as a fighter and makes an honest living working in a factory, from which he gets laid off. He lives alone with no signs of a woman in his life. (I guess their names are meant to be jokes since Razor is not too sharp and The Kid is no kid.)
Razor has harbored a grudge against the Kid for 30 years because he slept with, and knocked up, the only woman Razor ever loved. She, played by Kim Basinger, who at 60 is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the Earth, still loves Razor. The Kid has harbored a grudge against Razor because Razor wouldn't give him a re-match so that he could prove to the world (or at least the city of Pittsburgh) that he was the better fighter. Throw in Razor's former manager (Alan Arkin), who leaves a nursing home to train him for the grudge match while obsessing about sex and having enough money to hire a hooker, and The Kid's son and grandson, who have just learned The Kid is their father and grandfather for the first time. The Kid's son, whose name is B.J., with all the attendant adolescent jokes, agrees to train his old man in a rapid act of forgiveness that suggests to me that his initials ought to be J.C. Finally, there's a young, black man who is the son of the manager who cheated Razor and who comes up with the idea of the Grudge Match on "Grudgement Day." He's an unsuccessful hustler in the mold of young, fast talking black men, one of Hollywood's recent racial stereotypes. (it sometimes seems to me that Hollywood has gone from "yez'ir" to "f--- you".)
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how this all plays out. Just follow the clichés where they naturally go.
The thing is that movies like this are supposed to follow the clichés, so that's not the problem. The problem, I think, is that the movie is filled with jokes that are not particularly funny, including a lot of irrelevant racial banter and adolescent sexual humor. And, more to the point, there's pretty much nothing to make old guys like me feel proud to be old (with the possible exception of the noble ending of the fight.)
Yes, two old men manage to get in good enough shape to go 10 rounds. Do I care? I was hoping for virtual super heroes, like the spies in the Red movies, not old men with good abs. And each of them also gets a bit of redemption for their lifetimes of failure at love, rising to the level of the minimally human. Again, do I care? I was hoping for at least a smidgeon of the wisdom of old age not just humane gestures after battering each other in the ring, a rekindled romance, and a reconstituted family where all is forgiven.
So, if like me you enjoy movies that make you feel good about being old, skip this one. We are a growing market. Hollywood will be back, I'm sure.
(Michael Friedman is the co-author of The Diagnostic Manual of Mishegas.)