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De Niro, Stallone fail to land punches in ‘Grudge Match’

‘GRUDGE MATCH’ ★1⁄2

Billy “The Kid” McDonnen Robert De Niro

Henry “Razor” Sharp Sylvester Stallone

Dante Slate Jr. Kevin Hart

Louis “Lightning” Conlon Alan Arkin

Sally Rose Kim Basinger

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Peter Segal and written by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sports action violence, sexual content and language). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

Updated: January 25, 2014 6:11AM



Oh dear. Where do I begin? While I didn’t expect much from “Grudge Match,” this sad excuse of a movie was even more disappointing than I had assumed it would be. While actors and actresses do make films simply for the paycheck, I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case for four Academy Award winners who presumably aren’t desperate to make their next mortgage payment.

“Grudge Match” does not work on any level. The story is unconvincing. The comedy elements are weak (with the occasional exception of Alan Arkin as the retired boxing trainer and Kevin Hart as the young fight promoter). And, worst of all, the acting in most scenes — particularly those involving Sylvester Stallone and Kim Basinger — is atrocious.

Watching the two of them reminded me of a line written long ago by a critic in our sister publication, the Chicago Reader (and I paraphrase): They took wooden acting to sequoia-like heights.

The setup: Stallone and Robert De Niro were bitter rivals and top-rated boxers in Pittsburgh decades ago. After each won a major fight, their expected “tie-breaker” never took place. In the ensuing 30 years, De Niro’s Billy “The Kid” McDonnen has grown wealthy by owning a major car dealership and popular bar and restaurant.

Stallone’s Henry “Razor” Sharp, on the other hand, has caught a bunch of bad breaks, landing him back working in the steel mills.

But the real reason for the two men’s long estrangement has less to do with skill in the ring than with a tricky romantic conflict involving Basinger’s character. The two old fighters agree to a rematch to settle the question of who is better.

In the end, there are no surprises except this: Why in the world was “Grudge Match” timed for a Christmas release? Trust me, there ain’t no holiday magic anywhere near this one.

I kept flashing back to two terrific boxing films starring Stallone and De Niro. Remembering the greatness of “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” while watching “Grudge Match” only made me sad.

Email: bzwecker@suntimes.com

Twitter: @billzwecker



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