Rocky Balboa

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

"Rocky Balboa" is the much-anticipated 6th episode in the highly successful "Rocky" movie franchise. (At least it's highly anticipated by fans of The Italian Stallion.) The movie opens as Rocky deals with the death of his wife Adrian, played in the previous movies by Talia Shire. As the movie begins, we find Rocky visiting Adrian's gravesite on the anniversary of her death. Along with his best friend (and Adrian's brother) Paulie (Burt Young), Rocky reminisces about his life with Adrian. Over the next little while, Rocky and Paulie visit a number of places that hold a special place in Rocky's heart. There's the pet shop where she worked, the skating rink where they had their first date and the apartment they first shared together. And, while Rocky is enjoying the time spent remembering the love of his life, the experience depresses Paulie so he leaves Rocky to finish the tour alone. Soon, Rocky ends up at a bar where he meets Marie (Geraldine Hughes). (She's the one who yelled "Screw you, creep!" in the first movie.) She and Rocky start talking and she becomes a shoulder for him to lean on. Soon, they strike up a friendship, although Rocky is clear from the start that he's not interested in romance.

So, the dust has settled on Rocky's professional career and he's now moved into the next phase in his life. As we know from "Rocky V" (even though we'd like to forget that movie altogether) Rocky is pretty much dirt poor living in his old Philadelphia neighborhood with not a lot going for him. He runs a restaurant (conveniently called "Adrian's") where he spends his nights telling customers his old boxing stories. He's even got a seat for "Spider Rico" (from the beginning of the first movie). It seems that "Spider Rico" too has fallen on hard times and Rocky is there to feed him and give him some sort of home. However, when Rocky invites his son Robert (played by Milo Ventimiglia from TV's "Heroes") for dinner, he never shows. Robert has spent his entire life living in the enormous shadow cast by his larger-than-life father and just wants to make a life for himself.

The movie takes a turn when a computer-generated fight between Rocky and current heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) results in a victory for Rocky. The publicity generated by the "fake" fight makes enough headlines that Dixon's managers want a "real" fight. Coincidentally, seeing the fight on TV makes Rocky realize that there's still a little something "in the basement" and that he wants to get back in the ring. When he's approached by Dixon's management about an exhibition fight, Rocky agrees and the stage is set for "Skill vs. Will" where the current undefeated champ will get in the ring with the "Balboa-saurus" (who is nearly twice Dixon's age) for a battle that will prove once and for all what both men are made of.

I grew up watching the "Rocky" series and I really wanted to like this movie. And even though I came away from the movie slightly entertained, it wasn't enough. I went into this movie expecting a "boxing" movie, but found a Rocky that spent pretty much the entire time whining about the death of his wife. For a boxing movie, the boxing only takes up the last 20-30 minutes of the film -- and it was rushed at that. (It almost seemed as though he decided to box on Friday, trained Saturday and Sunday, and boxed on Monday!?)

What made the first four movies so great were Rocky's battles with Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. Here, Rocky's only battle is with his own memory of his dead wife. It was actually kinda depressing. And when you finally get to the boxing part of the movie, the "villain" (Dixon) is not developed enough as a character to really like or dislike. Instead, you really just don't care. The movie tries to make it so you feel bad for the guy getting screwed over because of the current (sad) state of boxing, but it doesn't work. Part of me thinks his story was poorly written -- and another part of me thinks Antonio Tarver should stick to boxing instead of acting. And the role of Rocky's son? Again, poorly developed. His turnaround from living in his father's shadow to standing in his father's corner seemed a little unbelievable. Finally, although I appreciated all the nods to the previous films in the franchise, it just got to a point where it was too much. The flashbacks. Marie. Spider Rico. A nice touch but too much. (I also found the final credits to be a little cheesy.)

In the end, I'd recommend seeing "Rocky Balboa" if only to satify your curiosity and to catch up with an old friend. Just check any other expectations at the door. It's definitely an improvement over "Rocky V" but not as good as "Rocky" through "Rocky IV".

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