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Movie Review: Rocky V

Rocky V
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Written by Sylvester Stallone
United Artists, 1990

Rocky V was an attempt to get back to the drama of the first Rocky, where the movie wasn’t just about training montages and fifteen-round slugfests.  With the original’s director Avildsen back after directing three Karate Kid movies (not to mention Lean on Me), the formula for success seemed to be in place, but there are so many things wrong about this picture.

Rocky (Stallone) has apparently been hit hard enough in his last bout with Ivan Drago that he’s beginning to suffer brain damage.  So, for real this time, he’s going to retire.  One problem: brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) accidentally gave power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant, who blew all the money on bad investments, and now Rocky, along with wife Adrian (Talia Shire), and son Rocky, Jr. (Sylvester’s son Sage Stallone) have to go back to the streets of Philly and earn a decent living after years of the good life.

Trying to get Rocky back in the ring is Don King.  Okay, the name is George Washington Duke (Richard Gant, in full parody mode), but the similarities are intentionally not subtle.  He wants Rocky to fight contender Union Cane (real boxer Michael Williams), but it looks like, this time, Rocky’s not budging despite the attraction of money.  Instead, Rocky starts training a big, dumb clone by the name of Tommy Gunn (real boxer Tommy Morrison, who was set to fight Williams in real life before Williams got hurt), who ends up demolishing opponents to the brink of the title.  This introduces another plot complication: Rocky spends more time with Tommy than his own son, who is having a rough go at school with bullies and has asked dad repeatedly to help him out.  Eventually, George Washington Duke swoops in and takes Tommy from Rocky with the promise of money, women, and a quickie title bout.

It’s all a big scheme, though.  Duke knows that Tommy will destroy Union Cane, and hopes that Tommy’s newfound fame with the aid of the great Rocky Balboa, and the disrespect that follows, will set up a title bout pitting student versus teacher.  And, well, this little relationship ends in a street fight played on the news and not a cop in sight.

It’s almost like Stallone, Avildsen, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, felt like Rocky didn’t have enough street cred.  The movie is filled with rap tunes from the era, all horrendously dated when you look back now.  The lame story of our hero Rocky taking back the streets of Philly, coping with being a dad to an ungrateful bastard child, isn’t really what we want to see out of this character.  We want to see Rocky fight for the title against all odds again.

Adding to this disconcerting plot are the horrible acting jobs, especially by boxer Morrison, who you’ll want to douse with gasoline and light a match he’s so irritating.  Had the movie truly focused on Rocky’s condition, making it the focal point of the decisions he makes, ending with an ill-conceived title bout (hey, I would have loved to have seen the bout envisioned by George Washington Duke that turns into the less-than-thrilling street fight), then a lot of the elements of this story would have worked and it could have been a decent chapter.  As is, it’s the ungrateful bastard child of the series.

Follows: Rocky IV

Next: Rocky Balboa

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