by Andrew James
Now it's 2006. Rocky Balboa is a fifty-something old-timer living in Philly. Adrian is long gone of cancer and Rocky's mournful and empty life is spent entertaining guests at his own Italian eatery (aptly named "Adrian's") and visiting her grave almost daily. That is until ESPN configures a computer to calculate what would happen if the current champion of the world were to square off against Rocky in his prime. The computer simulation calculates Rocky as the champion and this brings about feelings of anger and alienation from the current champ and deeper, inner feelings of a need for closure and a sense of accomplishment from Rocky. Mix in a substitute love interest, a disillusioned kid looking for a father and Rocky's continuing struggle for a meaningful relationship with his own son.
It just doesn't get any more formulaic than this. I mean this movie is practically a caricature of itself. The legacy the Rocky franchise has built and the icon Stallone has created seems like it's almost poking fun at what it has become. But we get right away that it isn't. Stallone turned the crank on the Rocky, movie-making wheel one last time to see what would come out. What emerged was more of the same: a big, uneducated (but lovable) lunk with a heart of compressed steel and gold roams the streets of Philly offering up words of wisdom to loved ones before training in a 10 minute montage of weight lifting, jumping rope and beating up meat slabs complete with the usual Rocky theme song pumping up the audience and raising the anticipation of the big fight to a frenzied crowd. Well, as frenzied as one can be in a darkened theater. Even grouchy old Paulie is here and of course the long run up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; complete with the obligatory raising of the fists in glory.
Having said that, the film is not a caricature. It takes itself as seriously as it can and delivers fairly well. Just because something is formulaic, doesn't mean it's something that isn't good. Though the Rocky character is well known and parodied in hundreds of sources, Stallone is still the man and plays his role well. Whether you agree or not, this is great acting. Sure he's done it six times now and everybody and their brother loves to try and impersonate it, but nobody brings Rocky to life as well as Sly. The quirks and mannerisms and that slack jawed smile is all Stallone. Though he isn't quite as chiseled as he once was thirty years ago, Rock-o is in damn fine shape for an old man and I'd never want to even contemplate taking him on.
The fight scene is just as formulaic. If you've seen one Rocky fight, you've seen em all. We've got the weird acid flashbacks to loved ones, 20 frame shots of the crowd and Oliver Stone type editing interspersed with slow motion shots of Rocky getting punched. There are a couple new stylistic tricks employed here; such as the black and white shots with only the red of the blood in color as it trickles down a cheek. Though we've seen it all before, Rocky doesn't always win in every movie (I'm not telling which ones) and so you're just not sure if he'll be able to hold his own in this one either. After all, he is pushing sixty years of age.
Though it's not a caricature of itself, it is most definitely a metaphor of itself; or maybe for Stallone himself. Rocky needs to know if he's got one more round left in him. Likewise, this movie (and Stallone) wants see if it still has the punching power to hold up in the box office of today and it's going to have to fight to be taken seriously. I think it will ultimately prevail. It also might be a testing ground for next year's return of Rambo. Yes, I said Rambo 4 is coming.
With little plot to discuss and acting that is just average (besides Stallone), there isn't much here that hasn't been seen before. But dammit, this is ROCKY! Fans of the franchise will love being back in their element and be just as pumped up as they were 20 years ago when Rocky fought Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago (yes, I know my Rocky history). As soon as that trumpet fanfare kicks in for the training session, you'll know you're right back where you should be: in a theater about ready to duck and weave as you root for Rocky to go toe to toe and say "I Am!" One last time. I can hear the chanting even now.
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Rocky Balboa