**** (out of 5)
December 20, 2006
Sylvester Stallone as ROCKY BALBOA
Burt Young as PAULIE
Antonio Tarver as MASON “THE LINE” DIXON
Geraldine Hughes as MARIE
Milo Ventimiglia as ROCKY JR.
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I have to admit that while I’m not a big sports fan, I am a big sucker for the “Rocky” movies. And for a franchise that has a very distinct formula, they do tend to be very different types of movies. Some, like the original film, is much more of a character study than an action piece. Others, like “Rocky IV” are so cheesy and over-the-top that it’s hard to believe it was a serious film when it was made.
Still, I tend to like the films. Call me a sucker for the underdog.
However, when I heard they were making another installment, I laughed. After all, Stallone is 60 years old. I remember watching George Foreman making his over-the-hill return to the heavyweight title, but he was only in his 40s when that happened. Could they actually make a convincing movie about a geriatric prize fighter?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes.
Believe it or not, “Rocky Balboa” is one of the better films of the franchise. It’s definitely second in terms of real character development and heart. The film comes from a pretty good pedigree, so when I heard the “Rocky” theme play at the beginning of the film, I was excited.
The first half of the movie doesn’t concern a big boxing event. In fact, most of this film isn’t about boxing at all. The ring is only secondary to what’s happened to Rocky Balboa the man. Adrian has died of cancer, and Rocky is struggling to keep going in this world. He’s raised a son who feels stuck in his shadow, and while people still ask him for an autograph or a story of the old days, Rocky really is a has-been.
So when a sports show compared Rocky in his prime to current (and very cocky) heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon – and when it declares Rocky would be the winner in a fantasy match – his thoughts turn to coming out of retirement. Of course, Rocky is just thinking of smaller exhibition matches, but Dixon’s people want to set up a real match between the two champions.
While “Rocky Balboa” does stray from the established sequel formula, it does have all the elements of a standard Rocky film. Of course, there’s the big fight at the end. There’s the inspirational training sequence. There’s a return of Burt Young sloshing through yet another role as Paulie.
It is these stand-bys that really hit home. As I watched the training montage, which features almost shot-by-shot homage to the previous films, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. It touched something in me that was residual from my childhood when I watched the first three or four films.
Ultimately, if you don’t like the “Rocky” franchise, you’re not going to like this movie. But if you’re a fan, this is a must see for the holiday season. There’s plenty of humor, especially moments where Stallone deftly pokes fun at his own age, and he actually gets a chance to act again. When Rocky steps in the ring, he looks like he could go several rounds with a champion. I wouldn’t want to mess with him.
Stallone’s honest portrayal of Rocky Balboa is one of the quintessential movie heroes. He’s the perfect underdog, and it shows a character that may not be the strongest, fastest or best, but he generally prevails because he has the guts and the heart to go the distance.
Okay, I’m writing in cliches now, but I suppose that’s to be expected from a review of one of the most notable franchises in movie history.