Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grudge Match Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Past-their-prime boxers pack a comic punch in Grudge Match, arriving onto Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on April 8 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Grudge Match stars Oscar winner Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Silver Linings Playbook) and Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone (the Rocky films, The Expendables) as old boxing rivals who come out of retirement for one final match. Peter Segal (Get Smart) directs the comedy, which also stars Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man) as Dante Slate, Jr.; Oscar winner Alan Arkin as Razor’s former trainer, Louis “Lightning” Conlon, who gets to put Razor through his paces again; and Oscar winner Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) as Sally Rose, who was once the love of Razor’s life.
Film (3 out of 5 stars)
Over the years I've heard many people debate which was the better boxer movie, Rocky or Raging Bull, a debate that always seemed a little silly to me since the two movies are so different. Other than two young up and coming boxers trying to get their shot in the boxing profession, there really isn't a lot in common between them. One featured a likable man of the people named Rocky and the other had a fairly disagreeable protagonist in Jake LaMotta. Somewhere someone said, "What if we actually get these guys together?" While it's a fun hook for this movie, it sounds better as a concept than it turned out in execution.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy seeing Stallone and DeNiro together in the ring, because I did, but if it was going to happen, I would have preferred that they appear as the the characters that have become legendary and not these two knock off versions. In this movie, Stallone plays Henry "Razor" Sharp and DeNiro is Billy "The Kid" McDonnen. The two men have a lot of shared history and none of it is good. After two championship fights that results in a one for each of them, but before they could have a final match to break the tie, Sharp announces his retirement which basically ends both of their careers. It's a decision that rankles McDonnen whose animosity towards Sharp only grows as the years go by.

Sharp ends up working in a shipyard while McDonnen has his own restaurant and show (a nod to Raging Bull), but neither are doing as well as they could have had they continued to box. When boxing promoter Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart) shows up to offer both of them good money to provide motion capture performances for a boxing video game, McDonnen agrees immediately, but Sharp doesn't sign on until some medical costs for his former trainer Louis "Lightning" Conlen (Alan Arkin) force him to agree. At the recording studio, Sharp is accosted by McDonnen even though his deal specifically required that they film at different times. It's only a matter of minutes before the two start fighting again which is caught on a cell phone and it becomes a sensation on the internet.

Their impromptu fight is so popular that Slate realizes that there's good money to be made if he can just get the two fighters to agree to fight for real in his so called "Grudge Match." McDonnen quickly agrees and Sharp does reluctantly when he's let go from his job at the shipyard. The past keeps coming back to haunt Sharp as he discovers when his former girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger) approaches him after the fight press conference. They had been very close but when fighting become the most important thing in his life, Sally retaliated by sleeping with McDonnen, something that Sharp could never forgive. Sally would like to reconnect with Sharp, but it's complicated by their history and by the fact that her son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) is the result of her dalliance with McDonnen.

The rest of the movie is spent showing the two veteran fighters trying to get back into shape, which is played for laughs even though it's obvious that Stallone and DeNiro are still in good shape in real life. Both men begin to appreciate their second chance at life, with Sharp getting close to Sally again, and McDonnen getting to know his estranged son B.J. by having him become his trainer. It's a hard process for both men as both are set in their ways, but they end up proving to the word and to themselves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. 

I enjoyed Grudge Match but I also think that concept of the movie is stronger than the actual movie. I've always liked watching both Stallone and DeNiro in their various roles and both of them do a nice job here even though I don't think the movie really made them work too hard. Even though their roles were supposed to be different than their previous ones, there's still enough similarities to keep the audience aware of the past, which is reinforced with some nods to their past movies like Stallone in a meat packing factory and DeNiro's nightclub act. The fight scenes are well staged (by Stallone) and it's great to see them in the ring together even though I wish they had made this movie twenty years ago. I was hoping for a better movie but this is a pleasant enough of a diversion to make it worth watching. I do believe that Stallone's former effort Rocky Balboa which covered a lot of the same ground did it a lot better than this movie.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is a winner with bright primary colors and a sharp picture that captures all of the details on display. Of course, that level of detail also reveals the questionable effects used to make the stars look younger. Colors are bright when present and the flesh tones look natural and consistent throughout the movie. There's no digital defects to mention or other issues to detract from the picture which makes this a very nice presentation. 
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Grudge Match's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very good especially during the fight scenes in the ring. For the rest of the movie, it's pretty much a front channel affair which livens up during the more action packed scenes. The dialogue is clear and easily understood and the rear channels deliver some nice directionality that's very accurate and precise. It's when the film gets to the arena areas that the rear channels really come to life. The various songs are also presented well as well as the film's score which never overwhelms the rest of the movie. This lossless mix does the job nicely.
Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
There's a decent collection of extras but all of them are very short but they are in high definition.
  • The Bull & The Stallion - The main cast and crew along with director Peter Segal talk about the movie, the characters, and the uniqueness of both Stallone and DeNiro appearing in a boxing movie together. We also learn that Stallone choreographed the fights, much like he did in the Rocky series.
  • In the Ring with Kevin Hart - A five minute look at Kevin Hart's involvement in the film. 
  • Kevin Hart Unedited - This time, we get to see Kevin Hart's outtakes and some of his improvisations for the movie.
  • Ringside with Tyson & Holyfield - A three minute segment with former foes Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
  • Blow by Blow with Larry Holmes - Four minutes with another real (and retired) boxer as Larry Holmes offers his thoughts.
  • Alternate Opening - This is a longer opening sequence that's introduced by director Peter Segal.
  • Alternate Endings - There's two extra endings that are also introduced by Segal.
  • Deleted Scenes - We get six deleted scenes that are introduced once again by Segal.
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Grudge Match is a decent movie that is most likely going to appeal to the fans of the main stars, Stallone and DeNiro in a match that can't help but trigger memories of Rocky and Raging Bull. Although the film could have been better, I still enjoyed it and the performances, even though both Stallone and DeNiro are better in their more iconic roles than here. This Blu-ray offers some very good video and audio quality but the extras could have been more extensive and better. If you can't resist seeing an alternate reality boxing match between Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, then you should check this out!

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