Grudge Match (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2015) Grudge Match isn’t an unofficial remake of Rocky Balboa, but is sure does feel like it at times, as a retired boxer played by Sylvester Stallone takes up the gloves once again to face an old rival.  But while Rocky 6 tried hard to keep up the serious underdog tone of its series, Grudge Match thankfully seems willing to let the natural comedy in its premise run free.  Or so it seems for a while, it bits and pieces –because far too often, Grudge Match lets go of its comic premise and muddles down in emotional sequences that take away from its strengths.  It doesn’t help that the film is deeply conventional – it’s not so bad when the characters are exchanging barbs or indulging in easy physical comedy, but when Grudge Match gets serious, it also gets dull.  Still, there is considerable entertainment in seeing Robert de Niro take up old glories (although this does nothing to calm critics claiming that his twenty-first century output so far has been almost entirely riffing on his previous career), and Stallone arguably plays a better take on his Rocky Balboa character.  Alan Arkin once again plays crusty-old-guy better than anyone else, much as Kevin Hart can somehow remain a non-obnoxious motor-mouth.  It’s also good to see Kim Basinger again in a substantial role.  The laughs rescue the film from rote emotional familiarity –there is, in particular, a single-shot silent gag involving a bridge, jogger, a scooter and careful composition.  Still, Grudge Match is pretty good entertainment, especially for anyone in the mood for a solid way to pass the evening.

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