Rocky Balboa (2006)

Genre(s): Drama / Sports
MGM || PG - 102 minutes || December 20, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-12-24

.:: F I L M ::.

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer(s): Sylvester Stallone (characters & written by)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geroldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia

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Sylvester Stallone gets a lot of crap for his acting and film choices and while it is certainly valid on the latter, he has starred in two cult classic franchises, Rambo and Rocky. The Oscar winning film spawned four sequels including a widely lauded Rocky V, for which Stallone himself admitted was not good and thus he wanted to make amends and end the franchise on a high note. Rocky Balboa, technically Rocky VI, isn’t Oscar worthy in any category, but what it does provide is one of the most riveting climax scenes I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Rocky Balboa (Stallone) has aged gracefully, owns and manages a successful restaurant but mourns the loss of his beloved Adrian who succumbed to cancer some years earlier. Every anniversary, Rocky visits her grave along with best friend, and Adrian’s brother, Paulie (Young) and goes back to the places where he remembers her the most. He also tries to rebuild his relationship with son (Ventimiglia), but Rocky Jr. can’t shake his father’s “shadow” and wants nothing more than to build his own image.

Meanwhile, Rocky also befriends single mother Marie (Hughes), whom he had once walked home in Rocky I, and gets a notion that he’d like to fight again based on a virtually bout between himself and the current champion, Mason Dixon (Tarver). So, with the help of Paulie, Duke (Tony Burton), Marie and her son, Rocky trains for his final fight.

This review is from the perspective of someone who actually has not seen Rocky 2-5 and had only seen the original over a decade ago. For those who are out of the loop on the franchise, it doesn’t matter. Stallone the writer and director take us back with minor flashbacks but you can easily not only follow what the character is all about, but you care about him as well. I won’t sit here and say it’s anything Oscar worthy or even one of the best movies of the 21st century, yet Rocky Balboa is actually a moving film that by the climatic bout, will make even the most introvert want to stand up and cheer.

As a director, Sylvester Stallone plays it safe but still provides some nice, though uneven, visual style that goes to another level for the Rocky/Dixon bout. The only way I can describe it is it’s a cross between Scorsese’s Raging Bull, which is obvious, but with a little Robert Rodriguez Sin City flavor. It does come out of nowhere and it does stand out like a sore thumb, but it works well in the sequence.

However, as a writer Stallone leaves much to be desired in terms of character development. Sans the final bout, the Marie character, an obvious Adrian replacement, isn’t used that effectively. At first one would think she’s a love interest but nothing remotely happens. What she does offer is a glimpse at Rocky’s good-hearted nature, so it’s not all wasted.

Stallone is now 60 years old and his face looks frozen in time and his trademark mumble is present throughout, but since this character is, in large part, Stallone, it doesn’t take long for him to get back into the game, much like Rocky himself. He surrounds himself with others attached to the franchise like Burt Young and Tony Burton and gets a little support from other supporting actors including Milo Ventimiglia, even if the character was a whiny snot.

Rocky’s latest foe is played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver and for someone who has never acted before, his performance did take me by surprise. Stallone tries to inject some development into the Dixon character. Dixon isn’t a bad person, merely cocky and full of self worth and someone who doesn’t respect Rocky and what he did for the sport. Given the role isn’t fleshed out, Tarver is good if not forgettable, but why does one go see this movie? Yeah, everyone likes a nasty villain, but Rocky Balboa focuses on, gasp, Rocky Balboa and his internal quest to finish what he started.

Although the first two acts were merely ‘good’, the final act of Rocky Balboa is not only great, but excellent. Stallone ends the franchise on a high note and for fans of the series, I’m sure it takes the sourness of the last entry 16 years before and one that pays homage 30-years after a classic.

Whether a Rocky fan or not, you will still get the iconic poses and the “Eye of the Tiger” theme that will give anyone goose bumps hearing. This is not a masterpiece but combined with a little nostalgia and the charm that only Stallone can provide, Rocky Balboa is a winner.