The dingy gray sweat suit and the tattered black hat are taken out of the mothballs one last time for Rocky Balboa, a far better than expected final chapter for writer-director Sylvester Stallone’s signature character 30 years after his debut in the ring. It’s sappy, it’s somewhat conventional, and I don’t care. This is one of the better times I’ve had watching a movie in the past year.
It’s an accurate statement to call Sylvester Stallone a bit of a fallen star. He hasn’t had a hit in more than 10 years, and the last film he made that was worth watching was Cop Land. In fact, he was so good in Cop Land, some fans (such as myself) thought the great roles would come rolling in for the guy, and he would return to greatness. Instead, he made a bunch of stuff that went straight to video, and he was basically ostracized.
But then he got involved with The Contender, the boxing reality show, and I started to get my hopes up. You see, Stallone had been talking to the press about making a sixth Rocky for quite some time, and a successful TV venture about boxing had me thinking the final chapter for one of my all-time favorite screen characters would finally get greenlit. The show tanked, but it was a critical success, and the buzz got louder. MGM gave Stallone a couple of bucks and told him to make his little boxing movie.
The resultant film is a nice return to form, a fitting final chapter to a rather erratic film franchise. I loved the first one, liked chapters two and three and pretty much hated four and five. Come on, he climbed up a snowy mountain with no gear and cavorted with a silly robot in Rocky IV. Rocky Balboa gets back to basics and winds up being the best Rocky flick since the original.
The years haven’t been good to the Italian Stallion. Rocky, now a widower, spends his time hanging around his small restaurant, Adrian’s, named after the wife. He tells boxing stories, poses for pictures to satiate fans and tries to connect with his cranky son (Milo Ventimiglia). On the anniversary of his wife’s death, he drags Paulie (Burt Young, in fine, cantankerous form) to the demolished ice rink, where he brought Adrian (Talia Shire, available only in flashbacks) for a first date. Much to Paulie’s dismay, Rocky is living in the past.
That all changes when a computer-simulated fight on ESPN declares classic Rocky the victor over current champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (real boxer Antonio Tarver). Rocky applies for a boxing license, delivers a grandiose “Give me one more chance!” courtroom speech and winds up in the ring one last time.
Some people just start laughing at Stallone before he opens his mouth, having written him off after stuff like Rocky V and Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. I’ll admit, straight up, that the guy is one of my heroes, so this movie is more for me than those who find the Rocky movies “stupid.” This is not a movie for those of you looking for a thriller. It’s quiet and reserved, reminiscent of the first film.
Stallone is 60 years old, but he doesn’t look it. His face looks like he’s about 50, and his physique is still better than most of the guys actually in the sport. The man claims that most of the blows we see in the final bout—staged like an HBO title fight—are real hits, and it sure looks that way
There’s no denying the parallels between Rocky’s life and Stallone’s. Stallone is using this as a platform to tell the world not to count him out, and time will only tell if it listens. (Rambo IV is slated for production next year. Yes!) This is a big, dumb lug, sweetheart of a movie. If you like the character, and you liked the tone of the first three films, Rocky Balboa will make you stand up and cheer. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s true.