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It’s De Niro versus Stallone. It’s Raging Bull rumbling with Rocky. It’s a film which no one thought needed to be made, but which, by sheer willpower and determination alone, overcame all the odds to win our hearts, enrich our spirits, and restore our faith in America once again.
Well, not quite. With a premise as obviously pasted together as “what if one now old in the tooth classic actor from a boxing film fought another old in the tooth classic actor from a boxing film in a NEW boxing film”, it was never going to reach the heights of Raging Bull’s stylish cinematography, or even the straight up gung-ho patriotism of Rocky. Nevertheless the plot itself is pretty classic fare – two former boxing rivals (De Niro as Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, Stallone as Henry “Razor” Sharp) with a score to settle over a girl (the almost pointless Kim Basinger) who are finally tempted back for one last fight. Before that can happen however, the boxers have to get in shape, allowing the scriptwriters to gleefully throw in almost every “look they’re old now” joke they can think of.ADVERTISINGPromote health. Save lives. Serve the vulnerable. Visit who.int
That’s not to say that some of these jokes aren’t very funny – De Niro and Stallone clearly had a great time duking it out verbally as well as physically, creating a chemistry that makes the scenes they appear in together stand out as some of the film’s best. Other characters don’t fare so well – Kevin Hart as the fight’s promoter Dante Slate Jr. wins the Chris Tucker Award For Most Irritatingly Stereotypical Depiction Of A Black Man and Jon Bernthal as The Kid’s estranged son B.J. doesn’t have much to work with, apart from his “nice guy” smile and several cringe worthy jokes about his character’s unfortunate name.
When the boxing match finally does take place it’s pleasing to see that director Peter Segal doesn’t shy away from filming the heavy blows – with thuds, smacks and chops aplenty. Indeed, the brutal punches almost come as a surprise given the film’s general tones of light comedy leading up to the rematch. In a way this sums up the film’s main problem as well as its positives -on the one hand it’s a film trying and occasionally managing to be taken seriously, following two major actors joyfully sparring with witty jokes and tight action. On the other, it’s a film with a single plot line rehashed time and time again for laughs, gradually feeling as if it’s got as much proper meat left on it as a beaten up old cow carcass hanging in a slaughterhouse.
And so, whilst the film has just enough punch lines to stay on its feet, it hasn’t got quite enough stamina to be the knockout it clearly wants to be.