Had the makers of "Grudge Match" committed to making the film a full-blown parody of boxing movies, it would have been a knockout.
Instead, the movie drifts between comedy and drama that looks at lost love, failings as a father, the financial collapse and the plight of the elderly. In the end, the movie feels more like the "Grudge" that stole Christmas.
Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro — stars of some of the biggest boxing movies ever made with the "Rocky" series and "Raging Bull" — play Henry "Razor" Sharp and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen, two Pittsburgh fighters who've reached retirement age. It's not the kind of retirement that ends an athlete's career, but the kind that comes with a Social Security check.
It's been 30 years since they squared off in a pair of fights, with each winning one of the bouts. The inevitable tie-breaker never happened because Razor decided to end his boxing career. On the anniversary of their last battle, the fighters are reunited by a fast-talking promoter, Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart). They agree to one more fight.
The screenplay by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman features several moments of comedy based on the boxing films of the two actors. There's a scene where Razor questions the wisdom of eating raw eggs and almost goes all Rocky on a side of beef. Even Alan Arkin's portrayal of Razor's trainer, Louis "Lightning" Conlon, comes across as a blend of the characters played by Burgess Meredith and Burt Young in "Rocky."
Hart's extremely funny, but his humor becomes so unchecked at times that it's as if he's performing a night of improvisational comedy rather than playing a character. This would have been fine had the movie opted to be a full-blown comedy. Once the story line gets serious, Hart's quick comedy jabs feel out of place.
The movie also continues the puzzling trend of De Niro trying to do comedy. De Niro's acting credentials are superb except when he tries to be funny in movies, like this one and "Last Vegas." It's like watching a fighter trying to work with one hand tied behind his back.
Stallone's no court jester himself, but his performance isn't as off the mark because his funny moments are jabs at his own career. The humor comes more out of the situation and less out of his limited comedy skills.
All of this confusion between being a comedy or a drama could have been overlooked if the final fight had been exciting. Both actors should be applauded for taking on such physical roles at their age, but even with all the trickery Hollywood can supply, their boxing showdown — full of blood and bruises — comes across as more sad than satisfying.
When "Grudge Match" pokes fun at the fight film genre, it lands some comic blows. It eventually loses the battle on points, though, when the more serious story lines get in the way.
"Grudge Match," rated PG-13 for language, violence, sexual situations. Stars Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro. Directed by Peter Segal. Running time: 113 minutes. Grade: C-. Theaters and movie times.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355.