I went into seeing Grudge Match with little to no expectations after glancing at its rather grim Tomatometer of about 20%. Apparently the critics aren’t particularly excited about how this matchup between Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro turned out, and for the first portion of the film, I felt the same way. By the end, though, I was actually pretty pleased with how the whole thing came out, despite the way it takes its sweet time to get there.
For the first half hour or so of the movie, I thought I was going to agree with the critics. The setup for the story and ensuing events feels a little artificial and offers little room for meaningful character development. As the film goes on, though, it progressively lets the viewer in on more of the characters’ backgrounds and personalities, deepening the audience’s perception of who these people are and the many mistakes they made in the past. What Grudge Match ends up doing very well is showing very flawed people learn from their mistakes and come to realize the folly of clinging to hate-filled grudges and wasting their lives away while they await an opportunity for revenge.
The other issue I have with Grudge Match is with just how crass the humor is. Much of the film is downright hilarious, but Robert De Niro, Kevin Hart, and Alan Arkin seem to have a hard time making jokes about anything but sex and private parts through most of the film. Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone mercifully keeps things clean (he never even seems amused by that kind of humor). The film is definitely well-acted by these four in particular as they convincingly portray their characters and do deliver more hilarious moments and one-liners than I could count, so the sour taste left in my mouth had less to do with the performances and more do with the largely potty-mouthed sense of humor.
Overall, Grudge Match was a lot better than I expected. Despite all the crass humor and the slow pace at the beginning, it steadily builds itself up into something really good by the time the credits roll. The problem is simply that it takes its sweet time to get there and rarely pulls its sense of humor out of the gutter, so to speak, so if you’re like me and prefer a cleaner sense of humor, you may want to pass this up. Otherwise, there’s a lot to like about the film and the main characters grow in ways that make the journey mostly worthwhile.