Dir: Peter Segal; Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal. 12A cert, 113 min.
As Oscar andBafta nominees jostle at the boxoffice, here is a low-fibre, high-fat alternative: The Best Exotic Marigold Punch-Up. Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone have made a comedy about two former boxers who decide, after 30 years in retirement, to settle an unpaid score.
Stallone's character, Henry 'Razor' Sharp, is a blue-collar Rocky Balboa-type, now toiling in honourable obscurity in a Pittsburgh steel mill. De Niro's Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen, meanwhile, has become round and gregarious, not unlike Jake LaMotta, and spins yarns about the old days from the stage of his downtown nightclub.
'Rocky versus Raging Bull' was surely the pitch that convinced Warner Bros. to press ahead, but Grudge Match feels less inspired by those two (very different) films than slightly struck dumb by them. Kim Basinger plays a shared love-interest, Alan Arkin a prickly trainer and Jon Bernthal an estranged son, and you can't help but suspect they're only there because, well, these are the kind of people that appear in films about boxers.
The rematch itself comes about after both men agree to lend their faces to a video game, and it is in the motion-capture studio that they meet for the first time in three decades, clad in unforgiving green leotards, their extremities marked with glowing ping-pong balls.
As the two men argue, and eventually come to blows, their digital avatars copy their movements on a giant screen in the background: it's a sharp idea, brilliantly executed, with the airbrushed past and saggy present moving perfectly in synch. In fact, it might be the only verifiably sharp idea in all of Grudge Match, which is otherwise underscored by the merry bleeping and whirring of an entire cast and crew faxing it in.
It all builds, of course, towards De Niro and Stallone actually doing battle; a spectacle which the director, Peter Segal, charitably shoots either at a distance or in tight close-up. Something about it reminds you of the sequence from the original Rocky film in which Stallone spars with a side of beef, except with Stallone replaced by a second side of beef, and the first side of beef fighting back. There's something intensely creepy about it, a sinewy weirdness straight out of On Sales.html">Jan Švankmajer, and I was thankful when it was over - as were the film's insurers, no doubt.
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