Film review: Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa
Revolution Studios

STARRING Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Lou DiBella
WRITTEN BY Sylvester Stallone
PRODUCED BY Charles Winkler, Billy Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King
DIRECTED BY Sylvester Stallone

SHOT BY J. Clark Mathis
EDITED BY Sean Albertson
MUSIC BY Bill Conti
DISTRIBUTED BY Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Screened on 2006-12-05

Big, sensitive, 60 year-old lug Sly wraps up one film franchise (Rambo IV is on its long-awaited way!) in this tribute film. Rocky Balboa, legend of underdogs, has distilled into the current somber incarnation, one who lives completely in the past: Rocky balances his time between sitting front-row-center at his wife’s grave, meekly wedging himself into his son’s complicating schedule, or helping the could-be-doing-better housewife who, 15 years before, once spoke to him. He’s drifting until death and, as usual, trying to make his immediate world a better place. When an ESPN computer simulation pits a young, prime-of-his-career Rocky against current undefeated heavyweight, Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon, a man of half Rocky’s current age – and Rocky wins – his memory of youth receives the final defibrillation needed for him to make that desperate leap back into the ring that most real citizens would immediately label as ‘crisis-inspired.’

The difference in the title (lack of sequel sequence) reflects the story itself: a final portrait. The parallels between this film and real life are far-reaching: both tell the story of a former, fairly simple-minded, modest big guy who peeks his head above the surface one last time, seemingly just to show that not tough black dudes, not genetically-engineered Russians, not TIME ITSELF can hamper the will of Joe America. The journey is singular, meant for Rocky to prove to himself, and the film is basically the same. The only real appeal the film has is to former fans of the fictitious Italian Stallion, and indeed, the boxing match that the film inexorably strolls towards is satisfying in every way a Balboanite could’ve wanted. Stallone’s directorial flair remains mostly intact, surreptitiously tainted by modern media (the final bout that goes into its Gatorade-commercial montage sequence). The story that leads up to the bout that you went to the film to see, the fate behind the fist, is so ordinarily “Rocky” but, in my heart of hearts, never quite dipped down into concentrated maudlin bullshit – however, it was darn close, and for many viewers it undoubtedly will sink that low. The film mimics reality perfectly: in the product, as in the cinema, the draw is to see a former great contend with our generation’s heavyweights. There isn’t a curveball in sight; if you’ve ever seen a Rocky film, you know what you’re getting into. I, however, enjoyed Rocky’s decades of clumsy do-gooding, and enjoyed the opportunity to see the age-addled pugilist beat the spit out of today’s youth. If you enjoyed Sly once, and can sit through 90 minutes of “same shit, different day,” perhaps you’ll smile when Rocky dons his gloves once more. If not, perhaps you shouldn’t be making a comeback either.

written by David Ashley