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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rocky Balboa: Movie About a Boxer, Could Have Been a Runner (review)

Worthy Addition to Sports Movie Pantheon, Jan 31 2007
"Rocky Balboa" AKA, "Rocky VI" will not be the greatest inspirational sports movie you see. Its grandfather, the original "Rocky" could argue for that spot. In fact, it might own it. However, no one should compare this to the first Rocky. It is a fun, inspiring movie for 2006, and will be a worthy addition to the sports movie pantheon.

4.5 stars for this one.

"Rocky Balboa" is, itself, the great underdog. Critics see it as another installment in the descending and embarrassing series, or, are calling it the best 'Rocky' sequel. Because of the two extremes Stallone has presented us, from one of the best movies ever to some of the dogs of cinema, expectations are low. With expectations across the board, I saw this and was pleasantly surprised.

Rocky Balboa, circa 2006, is a retired boxer approaching 60. People in town generally give him respect, and space. He is no longer hounded by the media, and no longer chased by his fans. Philadelphia has moved. They even took down his statue.

Now, he runs a midlevel Italian restaurant, and wanders from table to table telling about the good old days. Customers get a meal and a story, and Rocky gets his mortgage paid.

His son begrudges his dad for the big shadow. Imagine being Michael Jordan's kid? Such is what Rocky, Jr. must endure, and he wants to be his man. He pushes his dad away in the process. Rocky's conversation with his son outside the restaurant will be ranked among the great movie speeches, and will be quoted everywhere from church sermons to business books to locker rooms.

Meanwhile, Rocky is looking for meaning. Like Willy Loman, he wants the older years of his life to matter, and like Loman, he keeps looking to the past to find that meaning. Regular visits to Adrian's grave, autographs in his restaurant, and walks through his old neighborhood remind him of who he used to be. Who is he now?

He feeds a needy old opponent of his, helps a single woman and her son with friendship and jobs. He recognizes that life should be lived on his terms, just as he always has. But what are his terms?

When reigning champ Mason Dixon, a mix of rap star arrogance and Mike Tyson dominance, wants to fight, Rocky sees it as similar to the opportunity Apollo Creed gave him decades earlier. He's a fool, naturally. The match "will against skill" is respectful that Rocky's will power is bar none, but he isn't 25.

Like the other Rocky movies, good and bad, this is a family film. No profanity, sex, or the usual Hollywood movie gimmicks to kick it into PG-13 or up rating. It's clean, hard-charging, and packed with the message the other movies carried: "All about: pride, reputation, and not being another bum in the neighborhood."

The movie needs another 10-15 minutes to wrap up some storylines, and some of the lines are cheesy. Dixon's desire to be tested, Spider's reasons for being out of work, and Rocky's friendship to Steps need clearing up. The movie hangs on, but viewers might be left unsatisfied. Rocky makes one monologue too many about continuing to fight and never be beaten, but not so much that it becomes polemic.

I fully recommend "Rocky Balboa."

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