Remember the awful scene in Raging Bull in which Jake LaMotta, laid low by humiliation and despair, hammers his fists to pulp against the wall of a prison cell? This was, understandably enough, the reaction of many film enthusiasts when they heard about Grudge Match.
You can call the thing what you like, but the film unquestionably believes itself to be Rocky versus Raging Bull. Sylvester Stallone is the ex-fighter working at a blue-collar job in the American rust belt. Robert De Niro, his former rival, supplements his income by performing a faintly humiliating cabaret act in his own bar. You see what we mean?
It's not so much that Raging Bull is demeaned by association. Rocky is a perfectly decent slice of mainstream entertainment. The problem is that the two films come from such different places. You may as well set Macauley Culkin from Home Alone against the children from Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon.
Anyway, what makes all this so depressing is that Grudge Match is actually a good deal less terrible than it deserved to be. Former light-heavyweight champs Stallone and De Niro, 1-1 on career head-to-heads, have not spoken since Sly refused to fight a decider before retiring into obscurity.
It soon transpires that disputes over a woman (an impressively dignified Kim Basinger) were at the root of his intransigence. In a nice touch, the two finally meet up while recording the motion-capture for a videogame and, after various plot convulsions, end up agreeing to, yes, a grudge match.
It's probably best to draw a veil over De Niro's tepid performance. This is very much Stallone's territory – it really could be a Rocky sequel – and, employing full asymmetric charm, Sly manages to kick up surprising levels of poignancy. As his grumpy trainer, Alan Arkin confirms that he knows how to play the sort of part Alan Arkin usually plays. The eventual, inevitable reconciliation would draw tears from a stupid stone.
So, yes, Grudge Match is an act of cultural vandalism. But, as sacrilege goes, it's reasonably diverting.