It’s Rickety Balboa vs. Aging Bull in This Terrible Idea for a Movie

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 13 2013 12:21 PM

It’s Rickety Balboa vs. Aging Bull in This Terrible Idea for a Movie

grudge
Pittsburgh may be, but I'm not.

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In one of last year’s more amusing supercuts, the worst movies of 2012 reviewed themselves. “How did this happen? Who is to blame?” asks a character from John Carter. “The conclusion might be that I’m an asshole,” says Adam Sandler in a scene from That’s My Boy. And so on.

Grudge Match, starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as two superannuated boxers who implausibly come out of retirement to fight each other one last time, will be released on Christmas. Until then, we can always hold out some shred of hope that it will be a decent film. But when LL Cool J gets his big scene in the trailer below, it’s hard not to think back on that supercut from last year. “You my friend are embarrassing yourself,” Cool J tells De Niro, who has been in one or two decent movies over the last decade. (Seriously: Look it up.) “A great performer knows when it’s time to get off the stage.” Given the reviews for Cool J’s recent work, this is just awkward all around.

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Readers of Slate know that various developments in medicine and agriculture and technology have given us, in a sense, two lives rather than one. Unfortunately, De Niro and Stallone seem determined to live their second lives as farce. And, if this trailer is any indication, not as particularly good farce either. A “fallen and I can’t get up” joke? Really? Kevin Hart livens up everything, but I hope they saved his best lines for the film itself because he adds little here. And Alan Arkin, another typically welcome presence, just gets me down by impersonating Burgess Meredith.

Given how often De Niro and Stallone have been accused of tackling dubious projects for the promise of large paychecks, the meta aspect of Grudge Match goes well beyond its faint echoes of their famous boxing movies. And therein lies whatever promise this movie might possibly have: It could prove to be an affecting and amusing meditation on the predicament that the real-life Stallone and De Niro find themselves in these days. How do you cope when your best years are clearly behind you, when people want you to relive the glory days that are irrevocably in the past, and when you yourself, apparently, can’t quite let go of the contests of your youth?

I suspect the answer is: by not making movies like this one. But time will tell. “It’s the best we’ve got,” Stallone tells Kim Basinger at one point. What a depressing thought.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog. Follow him on Twitter.