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Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa
Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone

I read recently that Sylvester Stallone felt bad for the fans of the Rocky franchise that Rocky V was such an awful finale, a movie that reduced our hero to a street fight at the end, an embarrassing exit for a fighter with so much glory in his history.  Just for that alone, the seemingly eye-rolling idea of a sixth chapter has merit after all.

Sylvester Stallone has written every Rocky, and for the fourth time, he takes the director’s chair as well.  And sure, it’s an act of sheer ego to bring back a character from your glory days and make him out to be a guy that people not only want to see just for spectacle but actually need to see.  It’s not too much of a stretch to think after Rocky’s unintentionally funny foray into the Cold War in Rocky IV that in our time of looking for heroes, even good ol’ Rock, a dumb boxer with the heart of gold and incredible charm, qualifies.

As you would expect, Rocky (Stallone) has been retired for some time, and he owns a restaurant called Adrian’s, a hat tip to his deceased wife (played in all five previous installments by Talia Shire, whose face shows up more than a few times in this one).  The world has changed a bit.  The neighborhood Rocky once stomped around in has become destitute.  His son, going by “Robert” instead of Rocky like his dad, is stuck in some high-profile, but thankless job, and trying much too hard to shake the stigma of being Rocky’s Kid.  And Little Marie, a girl from the first Rocky film that Rocky walks home and preaches lessons on life only to be told, “Screw you, creepo,” has grown up (Geraldine Hughes, who looks a lot like Emily Watson) and has a kid (James Francis Kelly III).  The three form an unlikely group of friends.  It’s actually kind of refreshing to see a man and a woman meet with the goal of just being buds.

Heavyweight boxing isn’t nearly what it was during his day (or even the last Rocky film in 1990), ruled by an unpopular fighter named Mason Dixon (former champ Antonio Tarver).  ESPN does a virtual fight through a computer, much like was really done with Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano (Ali won), and applies it to Dixon and Rocky.  Rocky wins, and it’s just the sort of spark needed for Dixon’s manager (A.J. Benza) to set up an “exhibition” between the two fighters.  After a brief bit of nonsense about getting a reinstatement for a boxing license (but a good scene nonetheless), Rocky is back to montaging his way back to shape.

This is obviously a better film than V, and it’s a better film than III or IV for that matter.  In fact, I probably put it just under the original Rocky when going for its place in the franchise.  If the fight could have been a little better in the end (not as hard hitting as previous installments, and something about seeing HBO’s clock graphic was disconcerting), it might have stood nearly equal.  By the way, I couldn’t help but think that since the fight was apparently being shown on HBO, that a showing of Rocky II followed.

As is, though, you can’t go wrong with a movie that ranks just below the original.  Rocky is still a charmer (he can talk people in or out of anything; which is an unintentionally funny aspect of this film: see how many times someone argues with him, and that someone ends up doing what Rocky wants.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if Adrian somehow found her way out of the ground if he started talking to her tombstone), he’s a great character, no longer seen going out beating some dude in the street.  It’s a good movie even if they had decided not to show a fight in the end.

Follows: Rocky V 


Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: December 22, 2006, 1:00 pm

What did you mean by there not being a fight at the end. Is the fight with Dixon in the middle of the movie or something?

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: December 22, 2006, 1:14 pm

Sorry, I may clarify the sentence. There is definitely a fight in the end.

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