Two retired boxers, Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro) and Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone), have a thirty year-old grudge which has never subsided. The cause of their bad blood? Razor retired the night before a crucial title match, destroying both mens' careers in the process. Time passes. One boxer becomes a rich playboy, the other lives a modest life. Now they have an opportunity to even the score with one last match.
In hindsight, it's easy to be critical about 'Grudge Match', since the movie landed with a thud on Christmas Day last year and barely earned enough worldwide to make back its production costs. However, the actual idea for the movie is fantastic – taking two of Hollywood's biggest stars, who are both known for successful boxing movies, and squaring them off against each other in a battle for the ages (or of the ages, considering De Niro is now 70 and Stallone is only three years his junior). 'Grudge Match' should have worked, but thanks to a weak script that definitely should have gone through a few more re-writes, the result is a flat and primarily unfunny film. It's not a disaster by any means, but it is a huge disappointment.
Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (this reviewer's hometown, although it's actually The Big Easy filling in for the Steel City on camera), 'Grudge Match' begins by telling us the history of two fighters: Henry 'Razor' Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen (Robert De Niro), who fought two matches against each other in their careers, with McDonnen winning the first fight and Sharp winning the rematch. A third 'rubber' match (as they're called in the boxing world) never occurred, as Razor decided to retire.
The plot catches up with the two men many years later, with Razor now working in a local shipbuilders factory, while Kid has capitalized on his image by owning a restaurant and running a car dealership. Enter boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) – the son of the promoter for Razor and Kid's two earlier fights. At first, he just wants Razor's and Kid's participation in some video-capturing for a game that will have the two squaring off against each other, but after an altercation between them at the videogame shoot, Dante puts together a whole new promotion that will have the two men squaring off in a 'Grudgement Day' fight on HBO.
Also along for the ride are Alan Arkin as Razor's former (and once again) manager Louis 'Lightning' Conlon, The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal as Kid's estranged son, and Kim Basinger as Sally, who not only had a one-night stand with Kid, but was Razor's girlfriend for a long time (part of the reason Razor and Kid are so at-odds with each other).
The biggest problem with 'Grudge Match' is it struggles between whether it wants to be an out-and-out comedy or just a 'dramedy' – as the infusion of Kid's son and Razor's former lover results in a lot of relationship angst that, honestly, this movie could have done without. Add to that a medical issue (similar to many of the Rocky movies) that may/should prevent Razor from fighting at all, and we're left with a story that can't decide what it wants to be. On top of that, a huge chunk of the attempts at humor fall flat (the obvious ad libbing by Kevin Hart is one of 'Grudge Match's strong points), resulting in even the comedic bits being hit or miss throughout.
'Grudge Match's good points are primarily that none of the actors embarrass themselves here (potential viewers may be happy to hear that neither Stallone nor De Niro seem to be 'phoning' this one in), and the final fight in the film is particularly well-shot – thanks primarily to the fact that Stallone choreographed the scenes himself, using his experience of doing the same for the Rocky films. However, in the end, 'Grudge Match' doesn't add up to a whole lot. It's watchable, but hardly re-watchable, and a real let-down considering both the premise and potential.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Grudge Match' fights its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are housed in an eco-friendly keepcase, with the Blu-ray on the inside right, and the DVD on the inside left. The only insert is a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie via Flixster. Neither the Blu-ray nor the DVD are front-loaded with any trailers, and both menus are the standard Warner Bros. ones, with a still image (matching the box cover) and menu selections along the bottom of the screen. The case has a slipcover (matching the both the front and back artwork of the slick) that slides overtop.
'Grudge Match' was shot digitally on Genesis camera, and the transfer here is well-done, as would be expected from a digitally shot movie. Skin tones are nicely balanced throughout, and black levels are, for the most part, inky and deep – although some night shots are a little dimmer than I would have liked. Details are sharp…perhaps a little too sharp, as the digital effects that make Stallone and De Niro look younger at the opening of the movie are all-too-obvious (to say nothing of the fact that the final fight reveals every crease, crack, and wrinkle on the two aging actors' bodies).
Colors really pop on the Blu-ray without being oversaturated, and contrast is solid. The movie is presented in the 1.78:1 ratio, which is slightly opened-up from the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect (note: the box cover mistakenly says 1.85:1, but this isn't the first time Warners has been inaccurate about this). I detected no noticeable problems with banding, aliasing, or other frequently seen compression problems on this 50GB disc.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track here is well-done, although it felt a little restrained at times. While the surrounds are frequently active, I expected things to really amp up during some of the musical montages in the film (what's a boxing film without some montages?), but instead the track remained consistent with other scenes in the movie. I guess that's great in terms of balance, but it didn't quite bring the 'oomph' I was expecting or hoping for. Still, there's little else to complain about here, with some nice instances of directionality and immersiveness, and clean, easy-to-understand dialogue (always a plus when Stallone is on the screen!).
In addition to the lossless English 5.1 track, the disc also includes 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in both Spanish and French, as well as an English Descriptive Narration track. Additionally, subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French have been provided.
What a missed opportunity. Given the concept, 'Grudge Match' could have been a great comedy and a solid parody of both the Rocky series and Raging Bull. Instead, the filmmakers seem too restrained here and too afraid of taking chances. The result is a movie that, while not unpleasant, isn't really that funny and doesn't live up to its promise. If you're a Stallone or De Niro fan, it's worth a look – but it's unlikely you'll want to watch 'Grudge Match' more than once. Rent It.