Sensing an opportunity, fast-talking aspiring fight promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Hart) convinces the two paunchy punchers to finally reschedule their “Grudgement Day” bout, a televised spectacle that falls somewhere between “Celebrity Boxing” and Ali vs. Inoki on the dignity scale.
Ostentatious callbacks to “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” take the form of Stallone quaffing raw eggs and strolling through a meat locker, while De Niro performs a chintzy nightclub comedy act. As it turns out, Sharp’s abrupt retirement was sparked by McDonnen’s dalliances with his then-girlfriend (Kim Basinger), who abruptly reappears on the scene three decades later precisely as McDonnen’s estranged son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal), emerges to connect with his old man, quickly becoming his trainer.
The rest of the film (directed by Peter Segal from a script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman) ambles forward with a series of training montages interrupted by old-man-falls-down slapstick interrupted by sappy drama, with hit-and-miss set pieces occasionally compensating for the pic’s dreary lack of narrative propulsion. Considering how much of “Rocky V” and “Rocky Balboa” focused on the inherent sadness of an aged fighter enduring yet more punishment, “Grudge Match” is quite glib about the potentially fatal fight at its center, while it rarely passes up an opportunity to slather on pathos elsewhere via a cherubic little kid (Camden Gray) and images of laid-off industrial workers.
Compared with De Niro’s shticky role in this year’s “The Family” — in which his Jersey mobster character actually attends a screening of “Goodfellas” — the actor has a few moments of spark playing the more unsavory of the two leads, while Stallone mostly muddles through. (Both men, it must be said, are in quite impressive shape by the film’s final reel.) Arkin and Hart strike the same ornery-old-cuss / loudmouthed-little-man notes they’ve hit a dozen times before, though they’re good enough for quick laughs, and Hart’s end-credits attempt to stage yet another retirement-age grudge match proves the funniest moment in the whole endeavor.