As the sixth film in a rather uninspired series, Rocky Balboa has every reason to be a catastrophe. Sixty-year-old Sylvester Stallone attempts once more to be an action star in a film that he both wrote and directed. When you take into account the other films in which he’s done at least one of those things — Over the Top(1987) (arguably the greatest arm wrestling film ever), Driven (2001) and Rocky II through IV — you’d expect Rocky Balboa to be an unmitigated disaster. Surprisingly, however, much of the film actually works in its own limited way, though it can’t keep it up throughout its 105-minute running time.
The film is at its best when it works as a character study of the washed-up, aging, oafish-but-noble Rocky. Watching a man whose only talent is punching and getting hit in the head, and what happens when he isn’t allowed to do that anymore, is an interesting concept — especially when there is never any attempt at making the character any smarter or cleverer than he is. This means the movie simply works on how likable you find the Rocky character. If you buy into this good-natured lout, than there is entertainment to be found; if not, you’ll certainly have little to look forward to as most of the film centers on Rocky. It also helps that the film returns to the more realistic roots of the original Rocky (1976). There are no wrestling matches, no 7-foot-tall Russians, no talking robots, no bad early ’90s rap music. This back-to-basics approach helps.
The film shows Rocky Balboa, retired, widowed and far past his prime, relegated to telling old war stories to the patrons of the restaurant he opened after he left the ring. What raises this out of the ordinary are the parallels that can be drawn between Rocky and Stallone, an actor far from his glory days of the ’70s and ’80s, now largely relegated to straight-to-video releases, looking for one more chance to be on top. It’s unexpected to find something even resembling personal filmmaking from the same guy who wrote First Blood (1982) and Cobra (1986).
And while this makes the film at least interesting for the first two-thirds (despite a penchant for melodrama and silly monologues), its status as a Rocky movie makes a certain amount of boxing a requirement. And this is where the film falls apart. After the requisite (and, I’m hoping, trademarked) Rocky montage, we get a flatly directed, poorly paced boxing match between Rocky and heavyweight champ Mason “The Line” Dixon (professional boxer Antonio Tarver). There’s a severe lack of tension, and the entire sequence seems to drag on way too long. The boxing itself is goofy, and is essentially the climax of any Rocky movie. Stallone’s direction in general is never more than adequate. It’s a shame, too, because it turns what could have been a good, though flawed movie, into one that is simply “not bad.” Rated PG for boxing violence and some language.
â reviewed by Justin Souther