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6 reviews, 56 user ratings

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Rocky Balboa
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by Peter Sobczynski

"With Six You Get KO"
4 stars

Like many of you, my initial reaction to the news that Sylvester Stallone was planning on once again stepping into the boxing ring for a sixth “Rocky” film was that of sarcastic disbelief. The whole idea of another sequel to the 1976 sleeper hit that made him a star seemed like a cheeseball attempt to jump-start his career by going back to the well after a decade or so of ill-advised script choices reduced him from the plateau of the top box-office draws in the world to the depths of direct-to-video hell. Making it seem even more ill-advised was the inescapable fact that his last stab at the role–1990's dire “Rocky V”–was such a dumb and dour attempt to recapture the hardscrabble spirit of the original that even the most devout fans were put off by it and it single-handedly killed the franchise. And yet, even as the news traveled that this was no mere fanboy rumor and that it was actually going before the cameras, I’m willing to bet that even as people began making jokes along the lines of “Yo, Adrian–I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” some of you may have actually been rooting for Stallone and hoping that he would somehow manage to pull off a miracle and come up with a film that would give his most enduring and popular creation the kind of closure that he failed to provide with “Rocky V.”

Maybe his decade-plus cold streak at the box-office–a period where he made a couple of good films (“Demolition Man,” “Oscar” and “Copland”) and a lot of bad ones (virtually everything else)–humbled him to the point where he returned to the struggling-actor mindset that helped him create the original “Rocky” in the first place. Maybe he finally realized that the character was strong enough that he didn’t need to shoehorn in comic-book villains, hard-sell jingoism or potentially fatal diseases to hold the attention of audiences. Maybe he knew that this was essentially his last shot at the big-leagues and if it fell apart, he would never return there again. Whatever the reason may be, something must have inspired him because “Rocky Balboa” manages to defy all expectations and is as entertaining of a crowd-pleaser as you are likely to see anytime soon. Sure, it is messy, dramatically clunky and awesomely predictable but in this case, all of those attributes lend a certain charm to the proceedings. Shorn of the overamped atmosphere of the last few installments, it returns to the stark and simple approach taken by the original and the result is a film that even the most cynical viewers will have a hard time resisting.

Essentially pretending that “Rocky V” never happened (an excellent idea under the circumstances), “Rocky Balboa” opens with Rocky living in the past both literally (in what remains of the old neighborhood) and figuratively–his beloved Adrian has passed away, his son Rocky Jr.(Milo Ventmiglia) vaguely resents him for the long shadow that he has cast over his own life and he spends his days running an Italian restaurant where he rehashes old war stories so often that the customers can recite them along with him. What begins to stir him out of his shell is an ESPN segment that programs in the particulars of two fighters from different eras into a boxing videogame in order to speculate on who might have won if such a battle had taken place. Here, past champion Rocky is pitted against current title holder Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), a champ in a field of chumps who has gotten to the top without ever really having to prove himself against a worthy adversary, and the machine declares Rocky the winner.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this news sort of inspires Rocky to go back into the ring for a few local sparring matches, mostly just to see if he can still do it. However, this modest ambition grows larger than he could possibly imagine when Mason Dixon’s managers, sensing an enormous pay-per-view jackpot after a string of increasingly unpopular fights, come to him with a proposal to actually stage an exhibition bout that will capitalize on the publicity surrounding the simulation. After some hesitation, he decides to go for it–mostly because virtually everyone says that he is crazy for doing so–and as his training progresses, he begins to come out of his self-imposed shell by reconnecting with his estranged son and allowing himself to put his grief aside and start a tentative relationship with Marie (Geraldine Hughes), a local woman whose shy-but-loyal demeanor is not unlike the kind that Adrian once possessed. It all culminates in the traditional manner–a boxing match in which the two fighters will go the distance while trading seven times the number of punches seen in an ordinary fight in the first round alone.

Okay, so Stallone isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with “Rocky Balboa”–hell, he isn’t even reinventing the “Rocky”movies–but that isn’t really the point in a film like this. A “Rocky” film is about as ritualized as a nativity pageant and one goes to them to watch Stallone and company go through the Stations of the Ring–the scene where he is told that he doesn’t have a chance of winning, the scene in which he vows to overcome adversity no matter what, a scene or two in which he patiently deals with his relentlessly misanthropic brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), a training montage or two and the climactic fight sequence. These were the elements that audiences responded to the most in “Rocky” and the equally good “Rocky II” but in the subsequent entries, Stallone made the mistake of convincing himself that he needed more to hold viewer interest and so he introduced the silly wrestling subplot of “Rocky III,” the cold-war nonsense of “Rocky IV” and the soap-opera histrionics of “Rocky V.”

With “Rocky Balboa,” Stallone has stripped away all this excess nonsense and gone back to the basics and what is surprising is how easily he pulls it off without lapsing into self-consciousness. Certainly, the film is choppy in spots, features some amazingly clunky dialogue (“This is the last round of your life!”) and lacks a clearly defined opponent for Rocky to face (the film can’t decide whether Mason Dixon is a lazy and spoiled hack or someone genuinely interested in proving himself in the ring once and for all to see if he is as good as his yes-men say he is) but even the unevenness has an odd sort of appeal here–if the film was too slickly made, it just wouldn’t feel right. The same approach goes for the performances as well as the actors (especially newcomer Hughes) turn in the kind of low-key performances that won’t be winning any awards but which generate the kind of appeal that you can’t help but respond to. As for Stallone, he is friendlier and more accessible here than he has been in a long time and he seems thrilled to be able to give his most memorable creation a proper send-off without overdoing things. (There is a moment in which Rocky changes a porch light and his reaction when it finally blazes on is so disarmingly unforced that I can confidently say that it must be either a lucky improv or proof that Stallone is a far better actor than he is usually given credit for.)

Look, there are plenty of important and thought-provoking films coming out this season and “Rocky Balboa” is clearly not one of them. However, as modestly-conceived crowd-pleasers go, it is a highly successful and surprisingly endearing effort indeed and I suspect that even the most jaded movie buff will find it hard to resist the sound of those famous trumpet notes and the sight of him once again ascending those equally famous museum stairs. For Sylvester Stallone, it should serve as a reminder to audiences of what it was about him that appealed to them in the first place and if he plays his cards right (beginning with not pushing his luck by doing “Rocky 7"), it should help re-establish a career that was all but lost and provide the “Rocky” saga with the happiest ending of all

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15306&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/20/06 00:01:16
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User Comments

7/14/20 Ed Riddick Emotional, well-acted, philosophical—a great contrast with the sequels and bookends #1. 4 stars
6/10/09 R.W. Welch Stallone takes the hits and keeps on moving forward. Good script. 4 stars
7/29/08 the dork knight Great conclusion to the series 5 stars
6/16/08 Johnnyfaye I glad Stallone for trying to fix the series. I would have liked a better fight 4 stars
3/26/08 Tim Endearing and nostalgic, Stallone recaptures the spirit of the original 4 stars
1/03/08 mr.mike as good as it possibly could have been , even more so for fans 4 stars
9/19/07 Johnnyfaye This movie made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I'm glad Rocky gets a happy ending 5 stars
9/14/07 Xtos MAde up for number 5 4 stars
8/08/07 EZ $$ wasn't thinking it was gonna be this great 5 stars
6/06/07 Indrid Cold Solid, but mostly just looks good because 3-5 were bad. 4 stars
5/21/07 kitfo Art Imitates Life. One fight remains; kick Schwartzenegger's opportunistic Republican ass 4 stars
5/15/07 AJ Muller Finishes the series with the greatest since the first; awesome and uplifting. Way to go. 5 stars
4/28/07 David Pollastrini Didn't Weird Al have a song about this movie? 3 stars
3/24/07 Joe Much better than I thought it would be. Sly gives the champ the fond farewell he deserves. 4 stars
3/16/07 Sreehari We love ya rock 5 stars
3/13/07 DonnaH A wonderful bookend to the first Rocky. Beautiful movie. 5 stars
3/07/07 Luke Yo Sly, you did it!! 4 stars
2/23/07 Alice Yo Rocky ! Great movie ! 5 stars
2/20/07 Nick Stalone as Writer, Director AND ACTOR THUMBS up! Emotionally touching Movie. 5 stars
2/17/07 Double M Great ending for the series. The greatest underdog ever. Yo, Rocky, we'll miss you.... 5 stars
2/12/07 Rambo Great! Not a pulsating fight, but a absorbing story 4 stars
2/02/07 Kern Brilliantly and inspirationly written! Thanks so much, Sly! Fantastic stuff! 5 stars
2/02/07 Sam A beautiful farewell to a man who thought us never to give up. Rocky, I celebrate you 5 stars
1/28/07 MP Bartley Elegaic, stirring and honest. Stallone is award worthy (no, really). 4 stars
1/21/07 Anil A great film! I've never been so tense during a film! Best since Rocky II 5 stars
1/15/07 LaManna I sincerely wish he'd keep makin em! Incredible work Stallone 5 stars
1/13/07 Jeff I think it may be the best Rocky since the first one!!! 5 stars
1/11/07 Michaelb1478 He went out like he came in, best of the series since Rocky I 5 stars
1/10/07 Calin Great ending for one of the simplest yet most inspiring movies. Honest and touching 5 stars
1/08/07 Mike G A little corny at times, but hey, that's Rocky. Fantastic closure for me. 5 stars
1/07/07 Paul Walker What a send off awesome ! thank you Rocky Balboa. 5 stars
1/05/07 Anthony Feor One of the GREATEST films ever made 5 stars
1/04/07 CJD Emotionally powerful stuff. Sincere and cathartic. Nostalgic yet relevant. 5 stars
1/03/07 SHAWN Excellent way to end it! I'm sorry to Rocky go, but Stallone took him out on a high note! 5 stars
1/02/07 John Really good! 5 stars
1/02/07 Brian Mckay A Fond farewell for Rocky fans - best Rocky movie since the first one, and Stallone's best. 4 stars
1/02/07 iamfelix Excellent - People you care about, which is what makes a good movie. 5 stars
12/30/06 ahnold 1st & 2nd movies excellent. 3rd good. Down from there. This only beats V (unfortunately) 2 stars
12/28/06 JEET The best! 5 stars
12/28/06 Jordan Awesome movie!! I loved it. Kinda sad it's the last one though! 5 stars
12/26/06 Angel An awesome inspiring film, a must see for any Rocky fan, will not dissapoint 5 stars
12/26/06 JackJ The way it should have ended! Rocky! Rocky! 5 stars
12/26/06 Delores Lamkins I was so hoping it would be good, it surpassed my expectations 5 stars
12/26/06 JGS V is too often maligned. New one is a nice epilogue. Nice job Sly! 4 stars
12/25/06 Stephanie Great Film. Great Message. Loved it! 5 stars
12/24/06 Todd If Rocky wants a fight, he should put his head up his ass and fight for air. Fucking sucks! 1 stars
12/24/06 Johnsy The 16 year wait to see Sly do what he does best was worth it. 5 stars
12/23/06 Chris H Fine film....great way to end the series. Forget Rocky V 5 stars
12/23/06 RockyD The best! Really over the top! 5 stars
12/22/06 Seth I loved it! Great ending to the series. I'm just sad it's over. 5 stars
12/22/06 Jefferson It was GREAT!!! just like ROCKY, sorry it's over. 5 stars
12/21/06 Casamoro Best since Rocky II, flawed but memorable ening ot the series 4 stars
12/21/06 Jason This is without a doubt THE movie to see in 2006. 5 stars
12/20/06 Ole Man Bourbon An entertaining parade of speeches. I felt like I was watching an oration contest at times 4 stars
12/20/06 Adam Very, very, very fulfilling. Turn up the music and punch SFX in the fight, Sly! 5 stars
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  20-Dec-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 20-Mar-2007



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