Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Would you believe that this wasn’t nearly as worthless as I thought it would be?  Not that Sylvester Stallone’s sixth installment in the saga of the punchy pugilist ‘Rocky Balboa’ had to do much to exceed my already low expectations, but exceed it did and that has to be worth something.

As we meet Rocko, now later in life, pretty much everybody is dead now except his hateful brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young).  Cancer has moved Adrian on to the next realm, Mick died in Rocky 3, Apollo bit it in Rocky 4 and now it’s just the Rock, Paulie and his somewhat distant son, aspiring stock trader Rocky Junior (Milo Ventimiglia).  Rocky has a little restaurant named after his late wife whom he still pines for, and truth be told, Rocky pines for just about everything that has long since past.  While carousing around the old neighborhood, Rocky runs into a woman, Marie, (Geraldine Hughes) he helped out of trouble as a teenager some twenty plus years ago, and along with her teenaged son they form a solid platonic relationship which seems to give the Rock some sense of purpose.  Across the country Heavyweight champ Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is undefeated and untested and is generally loathed as a champion.  A computerized boxing match in which Rocky knocks out Dixon leads Dixon’s handlers to concoct an exhibition match to jump start the Champ’s lackluster career.

Though both fighters are resistant at first, they would acquiesce as Dixon is desperate to prove to the boxing public that he is a legitimate champion, and Balboa needs to do the only thing he’s ever known how to do.  Cue the music, and let the punches fly.

I’ve often said that movies are about actors, not directors, producers, cinematographers, grips, or best boys, but actors.  Poor acting or a perceived lack of authenticity can sink even the most expertly crafted film.  ‘Rocky Balboa’ benefits greatly from the performances given by its leads.  To an extent this is to be expected.  Sylvester Stallone has been in more movies than just about anybody this side of Eric Roberts, but somewhere on his epitaph the words ‘ROCKY BALBOA’ will be etched on it.  We’re comfortable with Rocky, and we empathize with Rocky’s loss since we were equally comfortable with Talia Shire’s Adrian.  Stallone carries Rocky with an easy, likable confidence that he’s mastered to a near art form.  Same goes for Burt Young’s Paulie, who is still bitter and as hateful as ever, and again, when Paulie tells Rocky why he’s not cool reliving Rocky’s past with Adrian, you understand completely which allows you to empathize with his hateful bitter ass as well. 

Maybe more surprising are the supporting performances turned in by Geraldine Hughes whose Marie character has a city hardened exterior, but a sweet compliant interior with her guard consistently raised.  Not a ‘hooker with a heart a gold’ stereotype, but simply a woman who has seen hard times and has learned that everyone has some kind of angle, and is immediately suspicious of Rocky, though there is no reasonable justification to be so.  Milo Ventimiglia who excels in the NBC TV series ‘Heroes’ is apparently just a very good young actor as he excels here as well in the thankless role of Rocky’s son.  It’s the characterization that Stallone has written that works since the son isn’t some kind of distant brat who hates his father, just a young man trying to make his way, in Philadelphia, carrying the name Rocky Balboa Jr.  The frustration that Ventimiglia exudes is real and authentic.

Admittedly, a fight between a sixty year old man and the twenty something heavy weight champion of the world is ludicrous, but this is a Rocky movie after all.  But the fight does turn out to be the weakest part of the movie, since it’s hard to separate the fact real light heavy weight champ Antonio Tarver would pummel an ancient Sylvester Stallone to death, literally.  But to anybody who happens to be a boxing fan will appreciate the HBO PPV setup, complete with Jim ‘I will slap a ho’ Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman calling the fight.  Toss in Michael Buffer baritoning ‘Lets get ready to rumble!’ and then top it off with legendary fight ref Joe Cortez in center and the illusion is complete.  ‘Rocky Balboa’ also gets the full ESPN treatment complete with all the legitimate boxing hacks throwing in comments as well.

It ain’t Rocky III, and it’s too bad there are no Apollo Creed shots (allegedly Carl Weathers wanted too much loot to use his likeness), but ‘Rocky Balboa’ is an appropriate send off (hopefully) to the Rocky dynasty.

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