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Dirty old men never die, just get funny

Posted By Drew Zahn On 01/05/2014 @ 4:59 pm In Diversions,Reviews | No Comments

There are still those among us who remember being taught as children to “respect our elders.”

Some may even recall the admonition of Leviticus 19:32, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord,” (KJV).

Which is why it’s so incongruous – and rife with comedic potential – when the elderly act as immature as the rest of us or in ways we least expect.

The new boxing comedy starring (68-year-old) Sylvester “Rocky” Stallone, (70-year-old) Robert De Niro and (79-year-old) Alan Arkin gives audiences a heaping helping of the immature, unexpected and funny. It even offers a touch of heart. But like any boxing match, some of the film’s punches land like haymakers … and others whiff nothing but air.

The premise of the film itself is a play on the unexpected: A pair of former light heavyweight rivals who walked away from boxing 30 years ago – one win apiece in their two bouts against one another – are suddenly thrust together again, still ready to knock one another’s lights out, in a geriatric “grudge match.”

But it becomes clear early the two boxers (played by Stallone and De Niro) have more bad blood between them than just their rivalry in the ring – no, there’s a hidden reason why these two hate each other, and audiences are allowed to watch the history reveal itself as the two prepare to face off again in the ring.

And I’ve got to admit, sucker for sports movies that I am, that there were plenty of moments where I laughed out loud at the film assaulting today’s culture through the eyes of macho men from a different era. Jokes about old men acting like young men again might be a bit cliché, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work.

Throw in the ever-hilarious, Oscar-winning Alan Arkin as Stallone’s dirty-minded and even more ancient trainer, and “Grudge Match” was one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year. Played just a little silly, just a little sentimental, the formula – even if formulaic – works like a charm.

But as I mentioned before, not every punch in the film lands squarely on the funny bone.

For a lighter-fare, “guy” film, the sex jokes and foul language in “Grudge Match” can get a bit heavy. There’s a difference between the “Jackass” movies, which are made crude on purpose for MTV morons, and films more likely to appeal to “Grudge Match’s” target audience. The latter can have a little naughtiness, but you need to avoid wanton lewdness, and “Grudge Match” sometimes forgets that.

For example, there’s a sequence where one of the boxers meets his 8-year-old grandson for the first time, and he jokes about the boy’s father. For no reason other than to make some off-color jokes, the dad is named “B.J.” – which gives boxing grandpa all kinds of fodder for making cracks about oral sex … in the boy’s presence.

The scene just doesn’t really work and leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Even Arkin’s shtick starts to grow old by the end. This is supposed to be old men not acting their age and defying stereotypes, not “Grumpy Old Men” meets “Bad Santa.”

That said, though it takes a few wrong turns through the gutter, “Grudge Match” is a comedy with heart and a good story, played by actors who aren’t taking themselves too seriously, but aren’t mailing it in either. It can be enjoyable, and has a positive, redemptive ending.

It’s good to hear Hollywood stand up sometimes for the old guys, such as in a hard-hitting speech partway through the film where the media is tongue-lashed for being “very disrespectful” of the elderly, for thinking when a man turns 60 “he’s all washed up, you kick him to the curb.”

This is a film instead about doing what you’re passionate about while you still can, even if others say you still can’t, and healing old wounds before it’s too late.

“Look at us!” the film shouts triumphantly. “We’re not dead!”

And outside of some content that really didn’t need to be there, “Grudge Match” makes that message both fun and inspiring. I leave it up to the discerning viewer whether he or she wants to take the detour through the gutter to get there.

Content advisory:

  • “Grudge Match,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 140 obscenities and profanities, enough to significantly detract from the script.
  • The film contains dozens of lewd jokes and sexual references and one scene where a half-dressed man and woman pop up, surprised, from the back seat of an automobile. Outside of bare-chested men in the ring and some bikini-clad women marking the rounds during the bouts, however, there is no nudity or significant romantic storyline.
  • The film contains a couple of scenes with buckets of horse urine and a scene where two characters vomit on screen.
  • In terms of violence, the movie contains some boxing scenes with landed blows, cuts, blood and swelling. There’s also some slapstick fighting violence and a few punches thrown during disagreements. An abrupt car accident is also depicted dramatically.
  • The film has no significant occult or religious content, save for a few throwaway lines like, “Thank you, Jesus!” and, “For God’s sake.”

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