Grudge Match (12A)
I remember wandering into the Savoy cinema on a whim one day in 1980 and being so blown away by Robert de Niro's performance as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull that I sat through it twice. (That was in the good old days when you could stay in a cinema all day if you wanted to without the cleaners hunting you out after each showing).
For the next few weeks I kept boring everyone about the fact that I'd just seen "the greatest boxing film ever made". De Niro deservedly won an Oscar for his performance, which was sweet revenge for the fact that he'd been denied one four years previously for Taxi Driver. (Sylvester Stallone's Rocky won Best Picture that year over Taxi Driver in one of the greatest Oscar injustices in history).
And now Stallone and de Niro are in a boxing film together, which would have been unthinkable in time's past. It would have been like, say, Burt Reynolds appearing in a film with Marlon Brando. (Brando threatened to walk off the set of The Godfather when Reynolds was being considered for the part eventually played by James Caan).
No doubt Stallone is delighted to have de Niro's name on his CV as a co-star but for de Niro himself it's another sad step on the path to self-parody that the former Method guru instituted a few decades ago with his various infiltrations into high-priced cameos and dumbed-down comedies.
This is another one of the same. It focusses on a forthcoming boxing match between himself and Stallone, two old dinosaurs who fought each other twice 30 years ago when both were in their prime.
The score is one-each so now everything hinges on this all-important third bout to find out who's better: Rocky Balboa or Jake La Motta. (Okay, so their screen names are Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen but we all know what's going on).
The film uses every plot cliché in the book and a few more besides. Of course there would have to be a woman who knew both of them and who is now one of the main reasons for the comeback tussle, wouldn't there? And wouldn't there have to be an ageing trainer who's fond of wisecracks? (Enter Kim Basinger and Alan Arkin respectively).
Neither could we have done without the son de Niro never saw after his fling with Basinger (whom he "stole" from Stallone) and who becomes his new trainer as "Grudgement Day" approaches. Or the smart-alecky grandson who provides the film with most of its laughs.
The collective ages of Stallone, Basinger and de Niro total almost 200 years. Considering that fact, it's some comfort to see that they all look so well – especially Basinger – and manage to provide us with two hours of passable entertainment here, even if the story looks like it was written by a computer.
There was a time I would have thought Stallone didn't deserve to be on the same planet as de Niro, never mind in the same film, but here they just look like two old hams on the same moth-eaten plate. In one scene Basinger tells Stallone he's not very "verbal", which is about the biggest understatement since Noah said it looked like rain.