‘Rocky’ goes the distance in his final fight
Who wouldn’t cringe at the thought of Sylvester Stallone resurrecting his big Palooka for a sixth time? The thought of one more “Rocky” film (Rocky V came out 16 years ago) makes even ardent fans of his Oscar winning debut wince, as if seeing someone sucker punched in a delicate region. And why bring back Philly’s favorite son anyway? What fresh story lines or angles could be extracted from a now geriatric has-been (the character not the actor). Yo, listen up, for as it turns out you can’t keep an ol’ Italian down as Mr. Stallone digs deep and provides his underdog champion a proper, unembarassing send-off: A reflective, poignant well-told story with a fight sequence that induces thrills on par with some of the best in the 30-year-old franchise.
Aging and nostalgic, the former heavyweight champion shares boxing stories to guests at his restaurant, “Adrian’s” named after his now-deceased wife. Between visits to her gravesite, he attempts to get some quality time with his career focused son (Milo Ventimiglia) while musing with meatpacker pal Paulie (Burt Young) about how “the world is fallin’ apart.”
A computer generated boxing simulation broadcast on an ESPN like TV channel showing how Rocky would beat the current undefeated Heavyweight champion (real life Light-Heavyweight Antonio Tarver) awakens the paunchy pugilist to the possibilities of a return to the ring. With obvious something-to-prove parallels to his own career, Stallone has his iconic character take on the challenge in order to find what’s “still left in the basement.”
Only friendly barkeep Marie (Geraldine Hughes) thinks Rocky isn’t crazy. The two have a refreshing, respectful and occasionally quietly humorous non-romantic relationship — one of the many subtle surprises in an as-expected formulaic film.
Looking at 60 like he could whip George Foreman, Larry Holmes or any number of comeback champions, Stallone has the beefy physicality to present at least some intimidation to his lighter challenger. Behind the camera he retains the skill non-pareil for fight preparation montages in which “Gonna Fly Now” can still induce chills.
Even the finish feels just right, providing a fitting capstone to one of filmdom’s storied franchises — if chapters 3, 4 and 5 had never existed we’d be talking about the best sports trilogy ever. Laugh if you must, but you must respect “Rocky Balboa.”
Rated PG (violence, mild profanity)