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Grudge Match: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

Grudge Match (2013) movie poster Grudge Match

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2013 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Segal / Writers: Tim Kelleher (story & screenplay), Rodney Rothman (screenplay)

Cast: Robert De Niro (Billy" The Kid" McDonnen), Sylvester Stallone (Henry "Razor" Sharp), Kevin Hart (Dante Slate, Jr.), Alan Arkin (Louis "Lightning" Conlon), Kim Basinger (Sally Rose Anderson), Jon Bernthal (Bradley James "B.J." Rose Anderson), Camden Gray (Trey), Jim Lampley (Himself), Rich Little (Boxing Announcer), Jen Kober (Tough Female Customer), Anthony Anderson (Mr. Sandpaper Hands), Paul Ben-Victor (Lou Camare), LL Cool J (Frankie Brite), Joey Coco Diaz (Mikey), Mike Goldberg (Himself), Chael Sonnen (Himself), Michael Buffer (Himself), Mike Tyson (Himself), Evander Holyfield (Himself)

Buy Grudge Match from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack DVD Instant Video

Boxing featured in career highlights for both Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro. Stallone's big break came on Rocky, a 1976 film he wrote and insisted on starring in.
It won the Oscar for Best Picture, earned Stallone nominations for both Actor and Screenplay (something only Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles had previously gotten from the same film), and spawned five sequels, most of them commercial hits. De Niro stepped into the ring to portray Jake LaMotta in 1980's Raging Bull. It lost Best Picture to Ordinary People, one of the Academy's most questioned decisions to date, but won De Niro his first and thus far only Lead Actor Oscar.

Those roles are clearly on the minds of the makers of Grudge Match, a film about two aging former boxers who reunite thirty years after their much-anticipated third bout fell through. These characters are not called Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, but ignoring the fact that LaMotta is a real person now 92 years old, they could be and Grudge Match would not be dramatically different.

Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro) promote their overdue "Grudge Match."

Back in the early 1980s, Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro) split a pair of fights, before Razor backed out of what would have been the rubber match. The non-fight remains a source of contention for these former world light heavyweight champions who haven't spoken since, despite each continuing to call Pittsburgh home. Their reunion first comes on a motion capture set in which the makers of a video game want to record their punches for accuracy. The old rivals can't help but get into it for real in what becomes a viral video sparking interest in a bona fide rematch.

Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), the destitute son of the late promoter who swindled them both, gets the wheels churning to make this dream match a reality and at last settle the score between these bitter foes. Met with skepticism and doubts over safety and health, the match begins to pick up steam with some promotion. The sexagenarians get serious about getting in fighting shape, with Razor turning to his old trainer (Alan Arkin) and Kid hiring B.J. (Jon Bernthal, in an inspired bit of casting), the illegitimate son he's just meeting now.

B.J.'s mother, Sally (Kim Basinger), is the source of some of the deep resentment between Razor and Kid. She was Razor's girl until she became pregnant with Kid's child. Some feelings still linger between Razor and his ex. That's one layer of intrigue explored in the path leading up to the fight, which mercifully is saved for the end, getting just around fifteen minutes of screentime.

Stallone drinks raw eggs again as Razor trains under his Mickey, Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin). Sally (Kim Basinger), the woman who came between the two fighters, re-enters their lives.

Generating some excitement in the cinema history its foundation channels, Grudge Match nonetheless perfectly conveys the criticisms that surround the careers of its two leading men these days. Stallone refuses to adapt to the times, as evidenced by his untimely Noughties extensions of the Rocky and Rambo franchises. Excluding Spy Kids 3D, his only other success since the '90s has been The Expendables and its sequel, two action movies built on throwback appeal. De Niro, meanwhile, can't seem to say no.
His once hallowed filmography has been severely diluted in recent years, full of inane comedies and dramas that nobody cares about (Silver Linings Playbook being the rare, glowing exception). In case my review hasn't made it clear, Grudge Match is foremost a comedy, though it is abysmal in this pursuit, despite some noble efforts from Hart and Arkin.

Fortunately, this movie exists for more than just the old man jokes that dominated De Niro's profitable Last Vegas. There's some heart and family drama that you can get behind while still cringing at some of the comedic failures. Neither lead reveals a new layer. Stallone has never had any range and De Niro has mostly been coasting since around the turn of the millennium. And yet, there is definitely something enjoyable about seeing these old pros (and Basinger too) still at it and getting to hold down relatively meaty roles.

Never mind that this film feels about a dozen years late, like something director Peter Segal could have helmed in between The Nutty Professor II and Adam Sandler's Anger Management. Back in 2001, Stallone wasn't yet clearly over the hill and the more selective De Niro hadn't yet become a lightning rod for criticism. The two men were in their fifties and the prospect of them duking it out in front of a paying audience of thousands plus more on pay-per-view wasn't so ludicrous.

Even if the execution remains consistently harmless, the film looks stale. Audiences were able to detect as much from the film's marketing. Grudge Match bombed way worse than anything with a Christmas Day debut in nearly 3,000 theaters should, opening outside the Top 10 and finishing with just under $30 million domestically and barely $12 M from foreign markets on a $40 M production budget. The domestic gross was actually higher than Stallone's other 2013 releases, the solo flop Bullet to the Head and Escape Plan across from Arnold Schwarzenegger. De Niro, on the other hand, has been all over the place, from headlining doomed limited release fare to being part of big ensembles of mixed success and usually modest quality.

The film's problems begin right at the start when subpar CGI is used to put younger De Niro and Stallone heads on younger bodies in motion. It's distracting and disarming enough to miss out on the point of the prologue, but you can put the pieces together eventually. Unfortunately, the creepy imagery is not limited to that opening for Stallone, whose self-disfigurement seems so greatly at odds with his tough guy persona. Even if you don't care about boxing, you may find some interest in this film's match-up for the way it pits De Niro's natural, graceful aging against whatever surgically and/or steroids-enhanced approach Stallone has been taking.

As far as paying tribute to their iconic boxing past, Stallone gets the edge, with two blatant homages/parodies to Rocky over no overt nods to Raging Bull (whose "boxing movie" status you can easily dispute, despite the American Film Institute giving it the top slot, right above Rocky, in their 2008 Top 10 sports movie list).

Nearly a month since closing its box office record, Grudge Match hit home video this week in a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack reviewed here.

Interesting post-script: To secure a PG-13 rating, Grudge Match has to have two characters unrealistically interrupt motormouth Kevin Hart halfway through the most maternal of profanities. And yet, the MPAA allows extensive talk about oral sex with the euphemism "butterscotch jellybeans."

Grudge Match: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 8, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though the cast and concept of Grudge Match make it feel older than it is, the presentation does not. The Blu-ray's 1.78:1 transfer has the distinct look of digital video. That and the aspect ratio almost grant the proceedings a contemporary television feel. However, sharp, clean and detailed, the picture is not troubled in any way.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio packs quite a punch too, particularly in the .1 part. Between Stallone's deep monotone and the many licensed songs featured, bass is a prominent part of the sound design. Unusual for Warner, a descriptive video service soundtrack for the visually impaired is included... but only on Blu-ray... and it's oddly performed by a British man.

Sylvester Stallone is seen choreographing the film's fights in "The Bull and the Stallion." Kevin Hart runs off his mouth in a number of bonus features, this time in a ringside moment alongside Paul Ben-Victor.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray delivers an octet of bonus features, most of them reasonably entertaining
and all of them encoded in HD.

"The Bull and the Stallion" (14:18) is a making-of featurette which pays special notice to Stallone's fight choreography, the actors' training, and filming the fight sequence. None of it seems like stuff the general public will greatly care about, but there are always boxing fans to consider.

"In the Ring with Kevin Hart" (5:00) celebrates the by far youngest focal cast member with looks at unused moments and the atmosphere on set, plus some enthusiastic talking heads. "Kevin Hart Unedited" (3:57) shows us more of Hart's alternate improvisations along with some outtakes.

Having evidently put the whole ear-biting incident behind them, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield appear together in a film-closing cameo and this bonus feature. Two alternate endings give us different outcomes for the big grudge match between Razor (Sylvester Stallone) and Kid (Robert De Niro).

"Ringside with Tyson and Holyfield" (3:17) collects comments from real heavyweight champs Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, who appear together as themselves in film-closing cameos and pretend to know what they're talking about regarding the film's fictional characters here.

"Blow by Blow" (3:34) salvages remarks from former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes' about his boxing experiences.

An alternate opening (6:45) and two alternate endings (3:22) are presented with introductions by director Peter Segal. The former has Kevin Hart's character narrate, reveals that Jon Bernthal had his head replaced with Cyber De Niro, and includes an appearance by Holmes. Segal also supplies sporadic audio commentary explaining the unfinished de-aging visual effects. The latter gives the two alternate outcomes to the big fight.

Kid (Robert De Niro) has his patience tested by a puppet in this deleted/alternate scene. Sorry, DVD viewers, there will be no jumping to a scene from your basic menus.

Finally, we get six short deleted scenes (6:44). All but one of them are individually
introduced by Segal. Most of them are unremarkable alternate versions of existing ones.

The same DVD sold on its own, the combo pack's second disc only includes the six deleted scenes despite being well under dual-layered disc capacity.

Warner takes their usual route of reformatting poster art to serve as static 16:9 menu screens. The Blu-ray resumes unfinished playback but does not let you set bookmarks. The stingy DVD lacks even a scene selection menu.

The slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase adds an insert with your Digital HD UltraViolet code to the plain black and silver discs.

From their sweatshirts to your calendars: Razor (Sylvester Stallone) and Kid (Robert De Niro) get the word out about December 15th, a.k.a. Grudgement Day	.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

That Grudge Match isn't a great film should surprise no one. That it is plenty watchable and occasionally enjoyable seems the bigger surprise after it was decimated by critics and avoided like the plague by holiday season moviegoers. Such middlebrow fare isn't worthy of scorn. I'm not sure Stallone is capable of anything better these days and De Niro made three worse movies last year alone.

Sporting a fine feature presentation and a pretty solid 45 minutes of extras, Warner's combo pack is a satisfactory release of an okay film you may only need to see once.

Buy Grudge Match from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack DVD Instant Video

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Robert De Niro: Last Vegas Silver Linings Playbook American Hustle Killing Season Everybody's Fine Red Lights
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Alan Arkin: Stand Up Guys The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Argo The Santa Clause 3
Jon Bernthal: The Wolf of Wall Street The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season
Kim Basinger: Blind Date The Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Thrillers | Directed by Peter Segal: Get Smart
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Reviewed April 9, 2014.



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