Rocky Balboa

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Rocky Balboa
Review (6.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

In 1976, a film written by a little-known actor and one-time adult film star took the world by storm. It was the ultimate "underdog" story, about a bottom-feeding boxer who is given an opportunity to compete for the world heavyweight championship. "Rocky" earned Oscars for Best Picture (prevailing over films such as Taxi Driver, Network and All the President's Men), Best Director and Best Film Editing, and earned Oscar nominations for Sylvester Stallone (for both acting and screenwriting), Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young. The American Film Institute ranked "Rocky" the 4th most inspiring film of all time, and Premiere magazine identified Rocky Balboa as one of the 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. The film transformed Sylvester Stallone from a struggling actor into one of the world's highest-paid movie stars.

Over the years, "Rocky" has developed into a franchise and, in the process, has devolved from critical acclaim to widespread ridicule (although it has continued to earn Stallone truckloads of money). The last film, Rocky V, released in 1990, showed Rocky returning to his humble beginnings after his business manager embezzled his fortune. The film was horrible and was painful to watch, and everyone believed that it spelled the end of the "Rocky" franchise.

In late 2005, rumblings began to emerge that, much like the phoenix rising from the ashes, the "Rocky" franchise was going to be resurrected. Stallone, apparently unhappy with "Rocky V", wanted to bring a "fitting closure" to the character who had made him famous. He penned a screenplay, climbed into the director's chair and, on December 20th, 2006, "Rocky Balboa", the last film of the "Rocky" franchise was released in North America.

Normally, this is the type of film that I try to avoid at all costs. I do not typically enjoy sequels. I detest sports, particularly boxing. I am not a fan of Sylvester Stallone. Yet, when I noted that "Rocky Balboa" had made its way to our theatre, my curiosity got the better of me. The original "Rocky" is among my favourite films, and I had seen the sequels, both good and bad. I simply had to see this film.

Rocky Balboa depicts its title character, retired from boxing and living modestly in Philadelphia. He owns a restaurant, his beloved wife Adrian has died of cancer and he is having difficulty maintaining a relationship with his son (Milo Ventimiglia). In an effort to reclaim some aspect of his past life, Rocky seeks to have his boxing licence reinstated, with a view to participating in some low-level local fights. No sooner is his licence reinstated than he finds himself challenged to an "exhibition match" by the world heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the same losing proposition that he had faced from Apollo Creed thirty years prior. Rocky accepts the challenge, and in the process shows Dixon and the world the true spirit of championship.

As you can probably gather, I went into this film with the lowest of expectations. The fact that Talia Shire failed to make even a cameo appearance, and Carl Weathers refused to sign the releases to allow Stallone to use his old "Apollo Creed" footage further fueled my pessimism. Stacked against this was my love for the original "Rocky", and the diminishing hope that I have felt with every sequel that at least one of the succeeding films would capture the magic that was present in the original. I went into this film expecting to hate it, but hoping that, finally, this would be the film to redeem the "Rocky" franchise.

While still overpowered by the shadow of the original, "Rocky Balboa" actually surprised me. Unlike some of the later films in the franchise, this was a film that did not take itself too seriously and that managed to avoid most of the schlock that dragged it predecessors into the gutter. The acting performances, while not outstanding, were solid. I particularly enjoyed Burt Young's performance as Paulie, the down-and-out alcoholic brother-in-law. The locations used for shooting were unforgivingly authentic, and added a flavour to the film that was reminiscent of the original. The training scenes and the fight scenes were some of the best that I have seen since the original. They were not overdone, and captured an energy that I have not felt in most of the subsequent films.

The primary criticism that I would make of this film is its lengthy and sometimes preachy dialogue that is present in some parts of the film. Stallone needs to come to terms with the fact that he is not now, nor will he ever be, a "dialogue" actor. He is (or at least he was) an action star, and he should be thankful every day that he has achieved a phenomenal level of success in that film genre. No-one wants to hear him fumbling through Shakespearean-style soliloquies. I hope that he keeps that in mind when he is filming Rambo IV (yes, you are reading that correctly, Rambo IV is currently in production).

Rocky Balboa is by no means the best film of 2006. I have, however, seen far worse films this year. While, like its predecessors, it fails to capture the essence of the original "Rocky", it is far better than Rocky IV and Rocky V, and it is more true to the spirit of the original film than Rocky II and Rocky III. For Stallone fans and "Rocky" fans, watching this film is a must. For everyone else, this is not the worst choice for an evening at home once it makes it way to DVD.

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