Judging from the success of nostalgic programming on television such as Where Are They Now?, E! True Hollywood Story, I Love the ‘70s, …‘80s, …‘90s, et cetera, fans enjoy taking a look back. On this front, Rocky Balboa delivers.
Writer/director Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as the rags-to-riches-to-rags boxer we last saw in Rocky V, fighting his former protégé and then heavyweight champ Tommy Gunn in an old school street brawl. Rocky is now a restaurateur, who entertains the clientele with stories of his battles. He still hangs around with his brother-in-law Paulie, played again by Burt Young, who is still as crotchety as ever.
Rocky and Paulie reminisce through a large portion of the film, and there are several homages to previous outings. Pedro Lovell reprises his role as Spider Rico, the fighter we see Rocky battle at the church in the first film. Spider gets free meals at the restaurant Rocky runs. Though played by a different actress this time out, Rocky once again tries to help Marie, the young girl he walked home and gave advice to in the first film. Rocky gives her and her son jobs in the restaurant, which is now conveniently filled with both memorabilia and characters from the previous films.
As in the fifth film, Rocky is still trying to build a relationship with his son, who is now out on his own, but frustrated with living in his dad’s shadow.
So, we are given a nice update as to where Rocky is now, and it is an enjoyable update. Unfortunately, we then have to move on. Inspired by the comeback of George Foreman, Stallone decides to bring Rocky out of retirement. Not a bad concept, but so poorly executed we are left to wonder if perhaps Sly has not taken a few too many punches.
After a computer-generated fight between the former champ Rocky Balboa and the current champ Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by Antonio Tarver, airs on ESPN, Rocky is inspired to give boxing another go. He applies for and receives his boxing license, but not without a passionate plea to the governing body. In said plea, we have not seen a monologue so poorly delivered since we saw Rambo’s tirade to Colonel Troutman (Richard Crenna) at the end of First Blood.
The promoter and manager for Dixon see Rocky’s interest in fighting as a golden opportunity to make some money, and in a transition worthy of a club fighter, we find ourselves at a press conference announcing the fight. Tony “Duke” Evers (played by Tony Evans), Rocky’s trainer after Mickey’s death, is there even though he has not been seen previously in the film.
The fight is set, and Rocky begins training to the music you may have heard before. Though Duke explains the limitations of the training regime due to Rocky’s age, we see him doing most of the things we are told he no longer can. This makes little sense, as does the fight we see.
Rocky’s son and Marie’s son join Paulie and Duke in the corner, though no previous experience is ever revealed. The boxing sequences are horribly executed which is such a surprise since the fight sequences in previous films have been highly touted. Antonio Tarver may be a great fighter, but he can’t act, and he can’t act like he is fighting.
If the inspiration for this film was indeed the return of George Foreman to the ring, certainly nothing was learned from Foreman’s efforts, as Rocky attempts to box with the much younger and faster opponent rather than just cover up, plod forward, and look for that punchers opportunity like Foreman did.
This film starts off as a well-written, -acted, and -executed story of a man coming to grips with what he once was and has become. It then deteriorates into nothing more than a parody of its predecessors.
Recommendation: Watch Rocky, then watch Rocky Balboa on DVD up to the point where he decides to fight again, turn the TV off, drink a glass full of raw eggs, and go for a run.