Holiday Film Guide: Grudge Match

De Niro and Stallone coast through this gentle boxing comedy.

Grudge Match isn’t a good movie, but I understand its function. With relatives getting together for the holidays, there has to be something you can see together at a theater and not find completely mortifying. You’re not taking your grandparents to see The Wolf of Wall Street or American Hustle, because nobody needs to cringe that often. So it’s Saving Mr. Banks, or this movie, or the somewhat more puzzling Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Grudge Match doesn’t offend, although it rarely comes to life, either. The premise is a rematch between two sexagenarian boxers who squared off twice in the 1980s; they each won a fight, but it rankles that they never had the rubber match. These days Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro), a showboat who likes to tell tales about the good old days, runs a bar and a car dealership in Pittsburgh. Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) retired early from the ring and went back to factory work; he’d like to avoid the rematch, but needs the money to support his aging trainer (Alan Arkin).

The guys’ shared history includes a woman (a spookily unaged Kim Basinger) and a few other details, which emerge as we inch toward the inevitable fight. A young promoter (comedian Kevin Hart) is around to remind the prizefighters of their old-fogeyism, so expect jokes about how Kid and Razor are unfamiliar with iPads and mixed martial arts.

Director Peter Segal, who botched Get Smart and Anger Management, has little feel for how the comic possibilities of this situation should be played. De Niro actually evinces some zip, perhaps held over from a Silver Linings Playbook turn that made him look like he’d been given a blood transfusion after years of being drained by too many Fockers. Stallone is surprisingly tame, as though someone suggested he try to act—he should be bobbing and weaving, but instead he broods in the corner. (He barely tries to sell the Rocky in-jokes.)

Here’s the strangest missed opportunity: Instead of vintage clips of Stallone and De Niro in their Rocky and Raging Bull trim, the prologue features approximations of the actors’ current forms awkwardly digitalized to suggest younger selves. That sloppiness turns out to be the order of the day.

GRUDGE MATCH Opens Wed., Dec. 25 at Sundance and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 113 minutes.

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