The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Grudge Match
Own Grudge Match on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD on 4/8

Imagine if Rocky Balboa squared off in the ring against Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta, and you've got Grudge Match. Or at least that's what the people who made this movie want you to believe. It's a funny idea, and for a while the film really does try to deliver on the promise. Then it gets sidetracked and moves away from the amusing concept it's supposedly based on. Grudge Match certainly has enough successful elements to be moderately entertaining, although it's hard not to wish it contained fewer distractions.

Sylvester Stallone plays former boxing champ Henry “Razor” Sharp. He's long since left the ring, opting instead for a quiet life away from the spotlight. Robert DeNiro plays Billy “the Kid” McDonnen, Sharp's longtime rival. They fought twice, with each man winning once. Ever since, there's been a feud between them as to which one is the better boxer. (A personal beef also figures into things.) A young, hungry promoter named Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) gets the bright idea to have the aging pugilists climb back in the ring for a tiebreaker. Sharp needs convincing, but McDonnen's obnoxious taunts eventually do the trick. The men begin getting back in shape, with Sharp being coached by his cantankerous former trainer (Alan Arkin).

That's the fun section of Grudge Match. Seeing Stallone and DeNiro as boxers once more provides a sense of retro joy. The movie makes use of this iconography by including some subtle in-jokes that refer to Rocky and Raging Bull, while also giving the two stars plenty of opportunities to spar, both verbally and physically. Stallone delivers his loosest, most enjoyable performance in years, clearly relishing the chance to engage in some one-upsmanship with his former Cop Land co-star. DeNiro's been doing a lot of comedies in recent years, but rarely has he seemed to be having as much fun looking for laughs as he does here. Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin – who have amazing chemistry together – bring an extra spark to the movie whenever they're on screen.

It's all the other stuff that weighs Grudge Match down. The second hour focuses on a bunch of mini domestic dramas that are much less interesting. Sharp rekindles a romance with an old flame (Kim Basinger), and there's a lot of dull exposition about how she once cheated on him with McDonnen. That fling bore a son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal). McDonnen wants to get to know the somewhat aloof B.J. He also wants to prove that he can be a good grandparent to B.J.'s young son, a task that proves (too many times) somewhat difficult. All these subplots are predictable and dull. You just want Grudge Match to get back to the main point.

Of course, it does at the very end when the men finally square off in a rematch. By then, though, the fun has been dampened. Grudge Match runs nearly two hours and would have been better served with some trimming to eliminate the character stuff in favor of sticking with the gimmick. And yes, Rocky versus Raging Bull is a gimmick, but at least it's one that provides some entertainment value.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Grudge Match will be released on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on April 8. The Blu-Ray comes with a surprisingly large number of bonus materials, many of them introduced by director Peter Segal, who provides context.

First up is a 14-minute making-of feature in which the stars talk about the fun of putting boxing gloves back on to poke fun at their most iconic roles. We see footage of Stallone choreographing the intricate fights. Time is also spent focusing on how the big match was staged so that it looked authentic. This is actually a pretty enjoyable segment.

“In the Ring with Kevin Hart” runs five minutes and focuses on the comic contributions of the master ad-libber. “Behind the Scenes: Kevin Hart Unedited” offers four minutes of the comedian cracking up on set, as well as delivering alternate takes of jokes. “Ringside with Tyson & Holyfield” is a brief interview with legendary boxers Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, who discuss some of the things portrayed in the movie. “Blow by Blow with Larry Holmes” details a set visit from the former heavyweight champion of the world, who reminisces about fighting Muhammad Ali.

Also on the Blu is an alternate opening, in which Dante explains the entire backstory between the two main characters. It's clear why this was scrapped: it is a huge exposition dump that would have started the movie out on a bum note. Segal introduces two alternate endings. The one used in the final cut is predictable, but also clearly the best. The other two understandably were not used. A handful of deleted scenes round out the Blu. Nothing spectacular here, but it's interesting to see some of the unused material.

The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are excellent.

Grudge Match is rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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