Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ROCKY BALBOA (2006): Punchy

If you keep your expectations low you might enjoy this movie.  I expected the story to be syrupy, the dialogue to contain a bunch of clichés about how a fighter is always a fighter, and to see Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to be not much changed from how he was in the other five Rocky movies.  I wasn’t too disappointed.  There is one significant improvement from past sequels.  Adrian is finally gone (who I only liked in the original Rocky) and is replaced by the young girl, Marie (Geraldine Hughes), now all grown-up and with a son and who had said, “Screw you!” to Rocky in the first film.  The interchange between her and the fighter in the current film exudes tenderness.  What’s missing from this movie and what was present in the first three Rocky movies was an opponent who had some personality.  This is a minor flaw.  What’s really sad is that it’s the exact same plot as all of the previous sequels – only slightly better done.
Adrian has now died (but since Talia Shire is still alive, don’t be surprised if her voice will suddenly shout advice to Rocky from the dead in the next sequel), and Mick has been dead for the last few episodes (he won’t be coming back because Burgess Meredith is really dead).  Otherwise, the soundtrack, the neighborhood and the way Rocky dresses is exactly the same as in the very first movie.  (Obviously, Stallone has had success at the box office with this series of movies.  Unfortunately, it’s the only winning formula he has ever had.)  Anyway, Rocky again feels he has something to prove (ending the Cold War in Rocky IV was not enough*).  At the age of 60, he sits around and feels sorry for himself while his brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), once again gets tired of all of the whining.  Paulie is in a bad position.  He has to put up with Rocky’s self-pity because Rocky is the only one who will ever support him.  Rocky has some wealth or at least is not broke.  He owns a restaurant and entertains the clientele with old fight stories.  Still, Rocky is bored with life and tired of living in the past, so he does what any punch drunk fighter would do – he once again puts on the boxing gloves to relive past glories.
A computer generated fight between Rocky and the current champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) had Rocky winning, which hurt the current champion’s feelings.  An exhibition fight is set up between Rocky and the champion.  It really isn’t an exhibition fight because there are scorecards and because the champion wants to humiliate Rocky.  If it was just an exhibition fight where the two fighters merely showoff their skills, there would be no favorites or Las Vegas odds.  The underdog role is, of course, a requirement of every Rocky film.  One of the problems of having Rocky as the underdog is that he’s already made many remarkable comebacks.  To top the last sequel, they have to make things even more impossible for him.  (I’m predicting that Rocky will eventually take on Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street series.)  So, predictably, at the age of 60 and fighting the current champion, there will be many commentators who will suggest that Rocky has finally taken on too much.  The odds will be against him and he once again will be the underdog.  Anyway, we get to see the usual training sequences and see how great of shape that the elderly Rocky is in.
So far, we have a sentimental storyline that’s fairly well done.  And like every other Rocky movie, it descends into stupidity once the fighting actually begins.  Rocky takes a beating that would kill anyone, Rocky fights back and Rocky pulls off a moral victory by surprising everyone.  Rocky bleeds and his opponent bleeds.  His opponent, who has beaten and knocked out just about everyone, cannot keep Rocky down.  Rocky loses a split decision (just as he did in the first film), but again the fans are cheering for him.
Rocky is not a fighter in these movies.  He’s a comic book character.  The movie audience wants him to perform superhuman deeds because the viewers of these movies would not be satisfied with anything but a happy ending.  If it was a fight film about a real heavyweight champion trying to make a comeback – say James Jeffries or Joe Louis or Floyd Patterson or Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes or Mike Tyson  - we would have seen him taking a humiliating beating.  (Even Rocky Marciano walked away from the ring rather than risk taking a beating in an ill-advised comeback fight.)  And if it was a fight film with any depth, it might have been about Jack Johnson or Sonny Liston instead of about a dopey white fighter against his villainous black opponents.
Fortunately, I never bought into the hype that told me this movie was different from the other five Rocky movies.  I expect that there will be another sequel in two to three years, but I certainly will not be disappointed if Stallone decides against this.  Stallone has really grown no more as a moviemaker than Rocky has grown as a character through this series of movies.  Neither Rocky nor Stallone’s movie technique has changed.  I would hope that Stallone could come up with a better way to inspire the viewers than keep returning to the same storyline.  But I’d rather see a dozen more Rocky movies than see Stallone act in another Rambo movie or try to go completely beyond his narrow acting ability by playing the role of Judge Dredd.
Stallone at least looks and acts the part of a washed up fighter.  The failed plastic surgery (or whatever he did to his face) makes it look like he has actually been hit a few times.  The religious imagery that he surrounds himself with is not atypical among many great athletes.  (There is always something deeper than mere physical ability that allows athletes to drive the body on.)  And Stallone is believable as a compassionate character that actually cares about all of the people around him.  There is a genuine “sweetness” (the movie is too sentimental for Rocky to deserve a more complimentary adjective to describe him) to the character that Stallone plays in Rocky Balboa that makes the emotional manipulations of this movie somewhat palatable.
*  A friend brought it to my attention that Rocky Balboa was not solely responsible for ending the Cold War.  Rumor has it that David Hasselhoff played a significant role in bringing down the Berlin Wall.  The former Baywatch star says that he sang Looking for Freedom at the Brandenburg Gate to millions of fans, which brought many on both sides of the wall to tears.  According to Ananova News and Entertainment, Hasselhoff was quoted as saying, "I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Check-Point Charlie... After my appearance I hacked away at pieces of the wall that had the black, red and yellow colours of the German flag on it.  I kept the big piece for myself and gave the smaller pieces to colleagues at Baywatch....  In Germany children have brought me thousands of flowers."  How much more can these entertainers contribute to the betterment of our society?
January 3, 2007 
©  Robert S. Miller 2007

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