Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Robert DeNiro,
Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, LL Cool J, Kim Basinger, Jon
Director: Peter Segal
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2014
“Now GO KNOCK HIM OUT!!!...and hurry up, I gotta pee...”
Grudge Match is actually the type of movie where so much was just waiting to go wrong, and yet, as fans, we root for it to go right. And by and large, it actually does.
What movie fan (or fight fan) wouldn't want to see a match between Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta? Well...maybe we'd have rather seen it some 20 to 25 years ago, but we can't have everything. In those characters, Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro helped change the landscape of boxing movies, and gave film lovers two of the screen's most unforgettable characters.
So sure, in this movie, neither actor plays his iconic character, but you still feel the vibe. Stallone is “Razor” Sharp, and DeNiro is “Kid” McDonnen, two fighters with a short but unforgettable history. In the 80s, they had two of the most grueling and still-talked-about matches ever. In the first, Kid won, but in the rematch, Razor disposed of Kid pretty neatly. Kid claimed he didn't take the rematch seriously and was under-trained for it. He, and boxing fans everywhere, wanted the third decisive match to prove once and for all who the better fighter was.
The only one who didn't want it was Razor, who retired from the ring. No amount of taunting or public humiliation from Kid could make him change his mind. And so, both men went their separate ways, with Kid running a car dealership and a restaurant, and Razor becoming a factory worker.
Razor has also been trying to take care of his aging manager Lightning (Arkin), but funds are running thin. That is, until Dante Slate (Hart), the son of his and Kid's former promoter (who took a LARGE part of their winnings), arrives with a deal. A video game maker is producing a game based on classic boxing rivalries. It's easy money if Razor will just show up, wear the motion-tracking suit, throw a few punches for the camera and record a few phrases.
Reluctantly, Razor agrees, but only on the condition that he does NOT want to see Kid. Yet, as fate would have it, Kid shows up early, and we find that 30 years' time has not mellowed these aging warriors, or their disdain for each other. A few punches are thrown, a video goes viral, and...well, it's easy to see what's coming.
Despite being in their 60s, the world begins to clamor once again for that final decisive match. Kid is as anxious as ever, but Razor, facing financial troubles, agrees. They are not alone; Razor still has Lightning in his corner, and Kid is introduced to B. J. (Bernthal), the son he never knew he had. Between both men is Sally (Basinger), with a missing piece of the puzzle to demonstrate why so much animosity exists between these men after so long.
I was expecting this film to be more of a spoof, but although it plays lightly, it plays seriously. There are one or two winks at the audience to let us know that yes, the filmmakers ARE aware of Rocky and Raging Bull, but nothing too ham-handed. And frankly, the final fight was better than I would have thought...credit the guts of DeNiro and Stallone, who are no longer young, but still willing to endure tough, physical roles for the sake of the story.
It's not a game-changer, but any fans of these two actors and the characters they made famous can't help but have a good time with Grudge Match. If you are not one of those, I can't say what you will think, but being one myself, I can say this movie goes the distance with charm, humor, and even a touch of warmth.
BONUS TRIVIA: Director Peter Segal actually asked Stallone to choreograph the final fight, which he did. YO ROCKO!!
This is a beautiful looking anamorphic and high definition transfer from Warner. The images are clean and well detailed, and the colors are vibrant and natural. The final finale, which has large crowd scenes and good action, renders extremely well.
There are only a few scenes where dynamic range comes into play, but this uncompressed audio track delivers them nicely. Much of the movie is dialogue-oriented, and the spoken words come through cleanly and are well-balanced against the music and backgrounds.
The extras include a making-of featurette, two specials on Kevin Hart, one with Larry Holmes, one with Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, plus an alternate opening and two alternate endings (each with a different outcome for the match).
Grudge Match may not be an undisputed champion of a boxing movie like Rocky or Raging Bull, but it's at least a winner by split decision. Stallone and DeNiro deliver laughs and fun in this enjoyable toe-to-toe matchup.