Grudge Match
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // $35.99 // April 8, 2014
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 4, 2014
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If you've seen the trailer for Peter Segal's Grudge Match (2013), you've probably formed an opinion already...and though it doesn't quite play out how you'd expect, there aren't many surprises along the way. The film follows the rivalry of Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro), two former boxers whose only single career losses came at the hands of one another. They never fought a third time for unknown reasons...but 30 years later, circumstances arise that tempt them to return to the ring. Money? Pride? A little of both, plus the affections of Sally Rose (Kim Basinger); she was once involved with Henry, but had a one-time fling with Billy that resulted in a son (Jon Bernthal). Both former boxers get back in ring shape with the reluctant help of aging trainer Louis "Lightning" Conlon (Alan Arkin) and a certain family member. Fast-talking Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of Henry's swindling former promoter, organizes the showdown. Interest balloons thanks to their out-of-ring exploits...and before you know it, the stage is set and it's time to end the rivalry once and for all.

More often than not, the drama in Grudge March feels manufactured and predictable (example: about halfway through the film I thought "Well, all that's missing is a car crash"...and guess what?). To make it worse, the drama hogs much of the film's second act but never really pays off in the end, creating a somewhat bloated end product that feels like every bit of its 115-minute running time without leaving us with much to think about afterwards. The jokes come fast and furious; some of them stick, but most of the topics (fish-out-of-water jabs, Kevin Hart's race-baiting) feel contrived or just plain worn out. The in-ring action and training segments are decent at times, but all too familiar after the glut of Rocky films, especially Balboa. Overall, Grudge Match is the film that wants to be a a heartwarming drama, a prickly comedy and a sports extravaganza all in one but, like it or not, succeeds only a fraction of the time.

That's not to say there aren't any redeeming qualities. The performances all around are at least watchable, especially given what they've got to work with. Stallone, De Niro, Hart and Arkin, treading well-worn territory with their choice of material, display good chemistry together and carry the bulk of the film. Basinger also turns in a respectable performance in a largely thankless role, hitting most of the right notes as her character divides attention between both boxers and her family. Bernthal was also a pleasant surprise; he's a good fit for the role and even body doubled as younger De Niro in the opening fight sequence. Though his character isn't any less predictable than most everyone else in the film, he added a certain dynamic that, like Basinger's character, provided a few fresh moments along the way. Damning with faint praise? Probably, but there's a pretty obvious reason why Grudge Match was initially saddled with a January theatrical release: it just never feels like anything more than the modest sum of its parts.

Warner Bros. serves us a combo pack in short order that, like the film itself, arrives in the condition you'd expect. The A/V presentation is excellent, bonus features are relatively plain-wrap and the variety of formats suits the film's eager-to-please disposition. All things considered, Grudge Match is a lukewarm package that's watchable enough the first time through but, more likely than not, won't earn a tremendous amount of replay value in the years to come.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Unsurprisingly, the months-old Grudge Match looks picture-perfect in high definition. Presented in a slightly opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio, there's a fantastic amount of image detail, plenty of texture and strong black levels on display from start to finish. The latter is especially important, as many of the indoor scenes are dimly lit but nothing of importance is lost. Most folks couldn't care less if their comedies look terrific---those are reserved for big action spectacles, you know---but Grudge Match holds up just about perfectly in 1080p and this certainly adds a measure of enjoyment to the experience. No digital imperfections were spotted along the way, rounding out the visual presentation quite nicely.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent this title's native 1080p resolution.

Not to be outdone is the excellent DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which does a fine job of creating a strong, occasionally immersive atmosphere. Grudge Match is obviously a dialogue-driven affair more often than not; the bulk of what's spoken is easy to understand, even if it's hiding under crowd noise, punches and other background distractions. All told, this is a strong effort that doesn't call attention to itself unless needed. Optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included, while all applicable bonus features are subtitled in English as well. An English Descriptive Video Service track has also been included, which narrates the on-screen action for those with visual impairments, as are separate French and Spanish Dolby 5.1 dubs. So yeah, there are certainly enough options to choose from.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic menu interface (as seen in DVD form below) is smooth and easy to navigate in both formats, while the requisite ads, logos and warning screens are easy enough to bypass. A numbered chapter selection menu is also present. This two-disc set is packaged in a dual-hubbed keepcase; also included is a matching slipcover and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy redemption code. As expected, both discs appear to be locked for region A/1 players only.

Bonus Features

Just a small assortment, and most of it feels very promotional in nature. "The Bull and the Stallion" (16 minutes) offers a general look behind the scenes, featuring participation from key cast and crew members including De Niro, Stallone and director Peter Segal. Two informal pieces include "In the Ring with Kevin Hart" and "Kevin Hart Unedited" (5-6 minutes apiece), which showcase the actor's coarse, charismatic personality and improvisational skills. A pair of boxer-specific interviews is up next: "Ringside with Tyson and Holyfield" and "Blow for Blow with Larry Holmes" (6-7 minutes apiece); all three living legends seem to be in good spirits and offer brief insights about the film and their decorated careers.

More traditional extras are also included. The best is an Alternate Opening (13 minutes) that features narration by Segal and several minutes' worth of prologue footage that doesn't include any visual effects. As an actual opening it's kind of a mess...but the way it's presented makes it worth a look. Two Alternate Endings (4 minutes total) showcase difference judges' decisions, while a collection of Deleted Scenes is also tacked on at the end. No major moments are revealed but anyone who enjoyed the film should check 'em out. Optional English subtitles are included for all applicable extras.

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that Grudge Match serves up more drama than the trailer suggests, it's still pretty much a case of "what you see is what you get". Part of me thinks this late-career Hail Mary would've been more resonant had it come before the likes of Rocky Balboa and even Last Vegas; as it stands, the cliches prove too big to overcome and give the film a bland aftertaste. The supporting performances range from funny-but-forgettable to all but thankless. Still, fans of the cast should check it out at least once to decide for themselves. Warner Bros.' combo pack serves up a modest amount of support, including a top-notch A/V presentation and a handful of surface-level bonus features. Rent It.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.

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