311 – Rocky Balboa

I was all prepared to buy into this new Rocky movie. I was ready, because it’d been 16 years since the last one, a movie Stallone himself said was kind of the worst of the bunch. Yeah, kind of. I was ready for Rock to come back against all odds and persevere, beating some rip-snortin’ champeen of the world to reclaim his dignity. But although this sixth Rocky film has most of the elements that a winning sports movie will have (underdog story, friends/relatives who don’t want him to do it, theme song), the result is flat, coming to life only during the requisite big fight at the end of the movie.

It’s been a long time since Rocky fought Tommy Morrison. Since then, wife Adrian has died and son Robert is now all grown up working at some highfalutin job. I can’t remember what the job was, but it was some kind of white-collar Important job, the better to juxtapose it with Rocky’s self-made lifestyle. But Paulie (But Young) is still around and, as it turns out, so is Duke (Tony Burton), who’s been Rocky’s cut man in all of the films thus far. But wait, with no Adrian there must be some kind of romance, right? Someone who can push Rocky a little, make him really want to succeed? So enter bartender Marie (Geraldine Hughes), who’s from Rocky’s old Philly neighborhood and has a son of her own. Sure, the son’s a teen who looks more like a twentysomething, and he’s a tall, gangly dude instead of an adorable waif, but you takes what you can gets.

Anyway, at this point in his life Rocky’s settled down. He has a restaurant, at which he spends a lot of time reminiscing and schmoozing with boxing fans. Trouble is, Rocky lives in the past. Several times we see him visiting Adrian’s grave or standing in front of old gyms or bars or other haunts, just trying to soak in some of what used to be. If there was an Olympics for wistfulness, ol’ Rock would surely win the gold each time out. He’s had much success, and yet here he is, living in the past. Paulie’s not of the same mind – he asks Rocky to change the channel, stop living backwards, and any other cliche he can come up with.

Meanwhile, the current champeen of the world is one Mason Dixon, who’s something like 35 and 0 with 33 knock outs. The slam on him is that he’s not really fighting anyone of any caliber – he’s just beating up bums. Sort of the same knock against Mike Tyson back in the day (Tyson even shows up in a ringside cameo), and Dixon gets roundly booed at his bouts. Then a computer simulation is run pitting Dixon against an in-his-prime Balboa. When the results give the edge to Rocky, brother, it is ON! Promoters figure here’s their change – people hate Dixon and aren’t coming to his fights, so taking on a sentimental fave like Rocky in an exhibition should spike sales.

So after some deliberation, Rocky decides to go for it, because that’s what Rocky would do. His son, who’s had to spend his life in the wide shadow of his father, is wholly against the idea, but naturally he comes around in time. Paulie’s against it to, sort of, and even so, he notes he can’t really help Rocky train, what with his job and all. But fret not, because that plot complication is handled easily enough, too.

I’d almost be able to forgive Stallone (who also wrote and directed) for the exponential schmaltz factor if there’d been more actual boxing, but the final battle with Dixon is it. There are no prelim bouts, no fights to get Rocky in shape, nothing. So he basically moves from the gym to the ring for his big fight. In reality, if he pulled that crap in his fifties, he’d be splattered by Dixon within one minute of round one. I won’t tell you precisely how it ends, to preserve that air of mystery, but I’ll note that the ending adds nothing different to the massive oeuvre of sports movies. Seriously, if you can’t figure out how this one’ll end, you’ve probably never watched a movie before.

About the only time the movie’s worth caring about is that final fight, though, because it’s pretty well done. Fight of the century, even. A lot of traded blows; it’s well orchestrated without being unbelievable. I mean, it’s not as if Rock is bleeding profusely from the eyes, mouth, nose, and neck and still manages to land a lucky punch to win it all at the last second. That would be stupid. But really, that’s the shred of credibility to which this movie clings.

Most egregiously, we don’t get to hear the awesome, iconic theme song in its entirety until the movie’s mostly over. On the other hand, a movie without the screeching ineptitude of Talia Shire can’t be too awful.

Hopefully, this will bury the ghost of Rocky Balboa for good. It’s not a terrible way to go out, but it’s by no means a knockout.

**

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2 Responses to “311 – Rocky Balboa”

  1. History » 311 - Rocky Balboa Frothy Ruminations Says:

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  2. Boxing » 311 - Rocky Balboa Frothy Ruminations Says:

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