Rocky Balboa Review
By Shawn McKenzie 12/23/2006
Former heavyweight champion of the world boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has been retired for many years. Adrian (Talia Shire, shown only in archive footage) has died of cancer, and he visits her grave frequently. He now runs a successful restaurant called Adrian’s in his old South Philadelphia neighborhood, where the customers enjoy hearing the tales of his fights. He even allows a former opponent of his, Spider Rico (Pedro Lovell, who was in the first movie), to eat there free of charge. Every year on the anniversary of Adrian’s death, Rocky visits the old landmarks of his relationship with her, such as the pet store where she once worked and the ice skating rink that they once visited. His best friend and former brother-in-law, Paulie Penina (Burt Young), usually accompanies him on this tour, but he really wants to see Rocky get on with his life. Rocky has a strained relationship with his adult son, Robert “Rocky” Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia; Stallone’s son Sage played him in 1990’s Rocky V)…who works for a law firm but can’t escape the shadow of his famous pop. Rocky finds something to live for when he receives an unusual offer. It all starts with the commentators on ESPN’s “Man vs. Machine” pitting the current heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver, a real former light-heavyweight champ) against Rocky in his prime in a simulated fight. The simulated Rocky defeats the simulated Dixon, which gives the champ’s manager L.C. Luco (A.J. Benza) the idea to generate some publicity for his client. Dixon easily defeats his opponents, but he hasn’t found a worthy opponent, and his fans have started booing him for how easy his fights have become. Luco thinks that an exhibition bout with the former “Italian Stallion” is just the thing that may bring Dixon into the good graces of his fans. Rocky decides to take Luco’s offer, and even though he is 58 years old, he still has the desire to “go the distance.” He starts training again for the fight, utilizing the talents of his old friend Apollo Creed’s former corner-man Duke (Tony Burton) to help him train. Meanwhile, while stopping in an old bar in his old neighborhood one night, he runs into Marie (Geraldine Hughes), a local woman he once knew a long time ago as a little girl (Jodi Letizia played her in the 1976 original movie; you may remember her from her line, “Hey Rocky! Screw you, creepo!”) She is now a single bartender who now has a teenager of her own named Stephen, a.k.a. Steps (James Francis Kelly III.) Rocky strikes up a friendship with her and Steps, and he hires her to be the concierge for Adrian’s, because his former concierge, Isabel (Ana Gerena), is about to have a baby. With the support of Paulie, Duke, Robert, Marie, and Steps, Rocky may be able to last the 15 rounds against a much younger opponent.
Fat and weak, what a disgrace
Here I go again with quoting song lyrics (which I also recently did with my review of Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny)…but when I saw Rocky Balboa, the song immediately came to mind. The lyrics come from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1984 song “Theme from Rocky XIII (Rye or the Kaiser),” and its lyrics loosely parallel the plot of this sixth installment of the Rocky series. Rocky may be running an Italian restaurant instead of a deli as the song suggests, but I just found it odd that the song almost predicts everything that goes on in the movie.
I realize that this movie was intended to close the character of Rocky Balboa full-circle…but by making almost the same movie as the original from 30 years ago makes it repetitive. I guess I should admit that I’ve never been a hardcore fan of the Rocky movies (I’m more of a Rambo guy.) It’s not that I hate them (except maybe Rocky V), but they have never excited me. With this movie, we see more of the same…the egg-drinking, the raw meat pounding, and of course, the victorious jog up the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps…all during the now clichéd “training montage” (which, I will admit, originated with the first movie.)
What is new is more of a semblance of a plot. Rocky has experienced loss in the past, with his former trainer Mickey Goldmill and his former rival turned friend Apollo Creed now dead, but the loss of Adrian continues to haunt him. He also has a strained relationship with his adult son Robert, who can’t live up to his famous dad. I found these slight differences more interesting than whatever huge opponent he has had to fight. In fact, except for the brief fight simulation in the beginning, the only actual fight scene occurs in the end. The end fight scene is impressive, though I thought that the fight scenes in last year’s Cinderella Man were better. I’m also glad that they didn’t try to force a relationship between Rocky and Marie, because it would be a little creepy. Stallone, who wrote and directed the movie, obviously has used it to close this chapter in his life.
If you are a fan of the Rocky series, then Rocky Balboa will thrill you to no end. For me, the movie was good, but it wasn’t a total knockout. It is a movie that will most likely put an end to the Rocky franchise (I’m sorry, but a 65+ year old Rocky stepping into the ring again would just be sad!)
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