Monday, May 21, 2007

Movie Review: "Rocky Balboa"

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Official Web site

It’s been a long 30-year journey for Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to come to a point where he can finally leave the ring behind in peace. But with the sixth (and hopefully) final installment in the “Rocky” series, Stallone invigorates the franchise with heart – something that had become quite elusive in the previous few attempts.

As writer, director and star of “Rocky Balboa,” Stallone is largely successful in stripping the noise and silly theatrics that had plagued the films ever since Mr. T started chewing the scenery in “Rocky III.” He does so by returning the movie to its roots, on the streets of Philadelphia, where Rocky helps run an Italian restaurant named, appropriately enough, Adrian’s. It’s only one of the many reminders that Rocky has of his wife, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

However, brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), is still around and as moody as ever, feeling guilt over how poorly he treated his deceased sister. Rocky still frequently visits his wife’s grave, but has trouble connecting with their son (Milo Ventimiglia), who feels covered by the heavy shadow of his famous father everywhere he goes.

Rocky even finds the possibility of love coming back into his life, thanks to the budding friendship with a bartender (Geraldine Hughes), who he decides to help out. Thankfully, Stallone doesn’t let the picture get too weighed down by its various subplots, as he knows full well it’s the boxing that most wish to see.

Putting Stalone’s age aside (he’s 60), suspension of disbelief has to be employed to a large degree that someone old enough to be his opponent’s father could stand toe to toe with him in a boxing ring for 10 rounds. But dang if Stallone doesn’t appear to be in peak physical condition. The training and boxing sequences don’t even kick in until well past the hour mark, but Stallone has done a commendable job to that point of painting some brief character portraits, while providing a halfway plausible reason for him to get back into the ring.

The boxing match pitting Rocky against the heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) is well filmed and feels like an authentic HBO boxing broadcast. Stallone explains in a making-of featurette that he was able to get such footage by piggybacking on an HBO pay-per-view boxing telecast that was to be held at the same time and location. They just simply got permission to go on beforehand and use the same crowd. How’s that for movie magic?

After six films in the series, there’s certainly precious little to surprise audiences with. But what is a bit surprising is that Stallone is able to wring any emotions at all out of a franchise that looked dead in the water when “Rocky V” fizzled with fans and critics in 1990. So let it be known that yes, Rocky gets to retire on better terms this time in what very well could (and should) be the last time the Italian Stallion walks out of the ring.

Grade: B
(Rated PG for boxing violence and some language.)

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