"Grudge Match" coulda been a contender.
Instead, it's a so-so holiday movie that looks far funnier in the preview and TV commercials than it is, but isn't that usually the way? It's this year's "Parental Guidance," guaranteed to attract audiences with its star power and rating (PG-13 rather than PG for the Billy Crystal movie) but utterly forgettable.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart..
Rating: PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language.
Set in Pittsburgh but filmed by director Peter Segal in New Orleans, which looks almost nothing like the Steel City, the comedy stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as boxers who were in their prime in the early 1980s when they first faced off and each won a bout.
They were set for a highly anticipated rubber match when Henry "Razor" Sharp (Mr. Stallone) suddenly retired without explanation. He now works in a factory that's on the ropes and lives alone in a house that could use some updating (signaled by harvest-gold kitchen appliances) while womanizer Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Mr. De Niro) parlayed his short-lived fame into becoming a pitchman and opening a bar and car dealership.
They still hate each other's guts and an unscheduled meeting during the making of a video game turns into a melee, which leads to an arrest and then an offer of a rematch by promoter (Kevin Hart). Old wounds are reopened, a woman (Kim Basinger) who has a tangled history with both men resurfaces, and longtime or new allies join the rivals as they try to get back into fighting trim for what's being billed as "Grudgement Day."
Allowing the actors who played Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta to meet in the ring -- this isn't their first movie together, they appeared in 1997's "Copland" -- is inspired. The script, by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, not so much, with Mr. Hart and Alan Arkin, as Razor's trainer attempting to lend some snap, crackle and pop with lines that sound ad-libbed. A near-mishap with a child seems like something out of a 1960s sitcom.
Pittsburghers will notice the attempts at authenticity with a Pitt Panthers sweatshirt, a cameo by WPXI's Courtney Brennan, a WAMO sign, references to the Consol Energy Center along with actual aerial shots edited into the Crescent City, although none can disguise the actual location. The attempt at snow is particularly pathetic.
Considering that Mr. Stallone is 67 and Mr. De Niro 70, just appearing bare-chested is an act of courage but "Grudge Match" seems sluggish and padded to reach its nearly two hour running time.
The best scenes echo ones from "Rocky" as when Mr. Arkin cracks egg after raw egg into a glass for Razor to gulp down. "Fighters still do this? Seems like a lotta cholesterol," he says.
"Grudge Match" isn't down for the count, just no match for "Rocky," "Raging Bull" or most of the other movies jockeying for patrons these days at the multiplex.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.