I'm not embarrassed to admit I've never met a boxing movie that didn't make me cry, but Grudge Match made me well up for all the wrong reasons. As the baby girl in a family full of brothers, I was born fighting. My dad learned to box in the army and taught us all how to throw an uppercut. In this testosterone-heavy world I was never treated any differently from the boys but I can't assume the same of you. All I can hope is that you have some sense of shame about contributing to a film that has only three female speaking roles, one being that of a prostitute. But hey, a job is a job, right?
To introduce the audience to struggling steelworker Henry 'Razor' Sharpe (Sylvester Stallone) and cocky car dealership proprietor and publican, Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) at the height of their rivalry, you composed a montage of 70's era magazine covers of the once-famous boxing champions at their fighting weight using actual photos of Sly and Bobby as their iconic alter-egos Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta. Little did you know that with this simple cut and paste job you were helping knock our gender into last century.
Your hackneyed mosaic of People and Rolling Stone magazine shots transports us back to an age when Stallone and DeNiro were in their prime and didn't make paycheque films to buy pools for the guest bungalows of their summer homes. An era when the rising feminist and gay rights battles gained serious ground and the overwhelming response of the male populace was to grow a 'stache, wear tight, junk-hugging jeans and pursue manly endeavors like hi-fi stereo installation and mechanical bull riding. You strap us into the Wayback Machine against our will and with a heavy platform boot, you gun the gas and steer us straight into Macho Town - the Pittsburgh of Grudge Match - where its occupants probably think the Bechdel Test is something that measures one's sperm count.
When Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of a Don King-esque fight impresario finds an opportunity to get Razor and Kid back in the ring for the fight that could net them all a huge purse, he's met with resistance from Razor. Why? Because as Kid so eloquently puts it, "I banged his girlfriend and knocked her up." Said girlfriend (Kim Basinger), with a backstory as thin as the dermis over Sly's droopy right eye, is a plot device who exists only to emotionally support Razor and to provide Kid with the catalyst to become a better man through a relationship with their grown love child (Jon Bernthal). If films like Girl Fight, Million Dollar Baby, and The Fighter - with it's rhinestone-studded, iron fisted matriarch - have taught us anything, it's that it's possible to tell a compelling story and still be successful without alienating half the audience. Perhaps Grudge Match screenwriter Tim Kelleher's tenure writing and producing for Two And A Half Men has left him unable to construct a female character without reducing her to a crass punchline.
Stallone and DeNiro took their training seriously and it pays off when we finally see them go mano-a-mano. To their credit, they move, act, and react their age, lending the film a dose of reality, however anemic. Unfortunately for them, and the ghosts of Rocky and Jake, this is the lone highlight in a film that is the cinematic equivalent of a cheap shot.
I have a soft spot for underdog sports films and I'm a sucker for a cliched montage. Sadly, yours opens up a Mandora's Box, spilling out lazy fart jokes, homophobic references, schoolyard comebacks, fat shaming, geriatric jabs and a scene at a monster truck show. In case the fruit wasn't hanging low enough, there's even a prison rape joke to remind us who the red-blooded, chest-thumping target audience is. I don't want to sound like some butthurt feminist here, but if a Mike Tyson cameo is the least misogynistic part of your movie, you have a problem.
Every fighter needs a good cut man, and your nostalgia-splicing made me wistful for those days as a child of the Seventies when I would run up my front steps, arms pumping as I triumphantly belted out Bill Conti's Rocky theme. It didn't matter that I was a girl, in my mind l was Rocky. In the spirit of all things macho I'll say this, I like my boxing movies like I like my women: sharp, nuanced, and full of heart. Grudge Match isn't a movie as much as it is a lame joke book for budding chauvinists and homophobes with ten minutes of solid ring action tacked on at the end. Witnessing the Italian Stallion and the Raging Bull duking it out provides the film's only thrills but bobbing and weaving through 90-plus minutes of sexist, homophobic, sophomoric suckerpunches to get to 'Grudgement Day' left me feeling spiritually rope-a-doped.
Yours in the blue corner,