Rocky Balboa (Theatrical Film Review)
Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo
rating: 5 out of 10
Review by Chuck O'Leary
Airplane II: The Sequel, there's a
funny and somewhat prophetic sight gag in the background of one scene where a
poster of Rocky XXXVIII hangs
featuring a skinny, little old man with boxing gloves on wearing a championship
belt around his waist. When Airplane
II was released in December of 1982, there were only three Rocky films up
to that point, and while we're still a long way from, God forbid, Rocky 38, it seems almost surreal to be
writing about a Rocky VI in 2006, 30
years after the first Rocky
opened in theaters.
says this sixth entry in the series about the perpetual underdog boxer is the
last one, and it better be. What could possibly be next, Rocky vs. Michael Myers?
latest one is called Rocky Balboa
without a Roman numeral in the title because movie franchises now usually
stop numbering the sequels when they've gotten to a shamelessly high number
such as Rocky VI. In any
event, it's going to be very interesting to see how Rocky Balboa does at the box office for several reasons:
- The character of
Rocky and the star who plays him, Sylvester Stallone, both peaked in popularity
21 years ago in 1985, a year in which Stallone had two of his biggest hits, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, and the
highest grossing film in the Rocky
series, Rocky IV.
- The last film in
the series, Rocky V, opened 16 years
ago to disappointing box office and was poorly received by most who saw it.
- Stallone, who
turned 60 in the summer of '06, and was 59 when the sixth Rocky was filmed last
winter, hasn't had a bona-fide hit since Cliffhanger
13 and a half years ago, and not counting his supporting role in Spy Kids 3-D, hasn't appeared in a
movie that made it into wide release in American theaters since Driven over five and a half years ago. In the meantime, Stallone also had one of his
films, Avenging Angelo, bypass
theaters altogether and go directly to DVD, and had two others, Eye See You (aka D-Tox) and Shade, that
were barely released in American theaters and went straight to DVD in 99
percent of the U.S.
- Even though the
first Rocky was a much-loved movie
when it debuted in the midst of the cynical 1970s, its underdog-triumphs
formula has been copied to death since then, especially lately with the likes
of Invincible, The Gridiron Gang, We Are
Marshall, etc. Furthermore, Ron Howard made a very good film out of a
real-life Rocky story in 2005's Cinderella
Man, and Clint Eastwood's excellent Million
Dollar Baby was sort of an anti-Rocky.
who wrote and directed Rocky Balboa,
obviously wants audiences to forget Rocky
V as much as possible. All the previous Rocky sequels began with the
last few minutes of the final fight from the previous film, but the sixth one
(and this didn't surprise me) doesn't open with that ridiculously staged
street fight that ended V.
also informed at the beginning of V
that Rocky suffered irreversible brain damage from his fight with Ivan Drago in
IV and would risk becoming an
"invalid" if he ever fought again. Rocky
Balboa conveniently ignores the brain damage thing from V and has Rocky unrealistically passing
medical tests and being allowed back in the ring. Are we to believe
Rocky's brain just healed itself over time?
Rocky V also starred Stallone's real-life
son, Sage Stallone, as a pre-teen Rocky Jr., but part six drops Sage like a hot
potato, and has an actor named Milo Ventimiglia playing the now grown Rocky Jr.
beginning of the new one, Rocky's beloved wife, Adrian (Talia Shire), has
been dead for a few years, and Rocky is now the owner of an Italian restaurant
called Adrian's, where's he's a constant presence telling old boxing stories to
his customers. Now a lonely man living in the past, Rocky regularly
visits Adrian's grave, and every year, has his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law,
Paulie (Burt Young), drive him around to places in the old neighborhood that
remind him of Adrian and happier times.
still the same ornery drunk, but Rocky Jr. now works in the white-collar world
and has little time for his father, who remains a much-recognized
celebrity on the streets of Philadelphia.
links to Rocky's past include Spider Rico (real-life former boxer Pedro
Lovell), the "has-been" Rocky beat in the ring at the beginning of Rocky 1, who's now a down-and-out
retired boxer the salt-of-the-earth Rocky always lets eat for free at
Adrian's. And he also reconnects with Marie, the little girl hanging out
on the street corner that Rocky walked home in the first one only to have her
call him a "Creep-o." Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is also down on
her luck, and along with Spider Rico, represents how Rocky might have ended up
if he didn't get his a million to one shot back in '76.
kind-hearted soul that he is, Rocky befriends Marie, and tries to help her and
her biracial teen-age son (James Francis Kelly III). Marie also
represents the possibility of a second love for Rocky that might help ease the
pain of Adrian's passing. The relationship between Rocky and Marie is
the strongest part of the movie, and you come away wishing more time
were devoted to it.
the main problems with Rocky Balboa
is that it scatters itself in too many different directions by introducing too
many characters, most of whom end up getting the short shrift. We
certainly should see more of Rocky's relationship with Marie's teen-age son,
and Tony Burton, who returns once again as Apollo Creed's former
trainer who came over with Apollo to Rocky's side in III, isn't given any personal moments in the latest.
scenes of Rocky Balboa
are surprisingly good, but the film really goes on automatic pilot once
the training beings for the obligatory Big Fight -- this one has the now
50-something Rocky accepting the challenge to fight the current, much-younger
heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon (real-life former boxing
champion Antonio Tarver), after a computerized "what if" fight has
Rocky winning. Once again Rocky will
need to reclaim his self-respect by stepping back into the ring as an enormous
underdog in a 10-round "exhibition" bout with the cocky Dixon.
Nobody gives Rocky a chance. Will "The Italian Stallion"
find enough courage within himself to go the distance one last time?
Does any of this sound familiar?
Rocky Balboa is every bit as average as III, IV and V, and often
plays like a highlight reel of elements from the previous films. There's
the training montage set to Bill Conti's famous music, Rocky running up the steps of the
museum and the expected lectures about self-respect and not being a
loser. But what was wonderful in 1976 is now about as fresh as a 30-year-old
loaf of bread, and the sixth one again misses the humor that separated the
first two from the rest. Nevertheless, despite
much of it being a by-the-numbers rehash, VI builds up a considerable amount of good will since enough
time has passed since the last one to make the new one feel like a reunion
with old friends.
month Stallone is scheduled to start filming Rambo IV, another belated sequel with Stallone starring and
directing as his second most famous character. The Rambo character is a more
natural candidate for sequels than Rocky because Rambo is more of a
"continuing adventures of" type of character. Like a James Bond
or an Indiana Jones, it's easier to put that type of action hero in
exciting new situations than it is a Rocky. After all, how many times can
Rocky be cast as the underdog in the Big Fight before he eventually becomes the
there's as much nostalgia towards the character as Stallone hopes, and Rocky Balboa becomes a big hit, it
might give Hollywood the excuse to make other belated sequels with aging
stars. Why not Clint Eastwood in Dirtier Harry; Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit: The Golden Years
and Cannonball Run 3; Eddie Murphy
and Nick Nolte in Yet Another 48 HRS.;
John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever
III: Dancing the Pounds Away; Jack Nicholson in The Shining II: Jack's Back and He's Not Happy; and James Caan and
Alan Arkin in Freebie and the Bean II?