Monday, December 25, 2006

New Movie Review: "Rocky Balboa"

Rocky, Rocky, Rocky! Chances are, if you start that chant in a public place, people are going to start chanting right along with you. The Rocky series of movies have become iconoclastic and a part of Americana. So why is there a new installment in the series after a 16 year gap in between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa? Surely, Sylvester Stallone isn't cashing in on the films' popularity after a string of flops?

Well, he probably is, but it doesn't matter. Rocky has always been a personal project from Stallone, as he wrote each film and directed each one after the first Rocky. The first movie even won an Oscar for Best Picture against some tough competition, so he has some critical weight to throw around. So you can excuse him for going back to the well one more time. If he had merely been a name on the marquee then this movie would reek of desperation, but instead the movie reeks of sentimentality.

The plot, as is with most Rocky movies, is wafer-thin. Rocky is getting in on years, having retired to run an Italian eatery and losing his beloved Adrian to "woman cancer". His anger over his loss boils underneth his surface and although he puts on a happy face, Sly portrays Rocky as really having nothing to live for and just going about his day-to-day life. He drags Paulie, Adrian's brother, around to places seen in the first Rocky movie to remember all thae happy times he and Adrian had. Rocky can't let go of the past, or let go of it in any meaningful way.

The movie too can't let go of the past either, with numerous references to Rocky I. There are flashbacks to filmed scenes and Rocky tells a story about a boxing match where his opponent is revealed to be Apollo Creed. Heck, even the city of Philadelphia can't let go of the past, with Rocky being recognized wherever he goes and being treated like a hero. Again, while it comes off as corny, it is not a great departure from how Rocky and Philadelphia were seen in the previous movies.

Philadelphia and America craves an underdog, and that is what Rocky Balboa is all about. Rocky is truly an "innocent", who views the world in black and white and always follows his moral compass. So while the plot is nonexistant, the movie is still enjoyable for that theme. Although it does get ridiculous at times, with Rocky being almost a Christ-like figure, where everyone he meets becomes a better person for meeting him, it is still sweet to see.

I would be remiss not to mention Milo Ventimiglia. Milo plays Rocky Jr. and is currentoly on the hit TV show Heroes. He doesn't get too many great lines in the movie and has to play Stallone's emotional adversary for most of the movie, he still was good. Stallone's physical enemy, Mason "The Line" Dixon, palyed by Antonio Tarver, is always good in the typical Rocky role: slightly meglomaniac who only wants to spar Rocky for the publicity. We've seen it before, and in fact it unfurls as Apollo Creed vs. Rocky for the 21st century. But again, sometimes it is nice to be familar with the situation.

To put it in boxing terms, this movie was hardly a TKO, or totally knockout. It does however deliver some nice punches and there is no doubt that the movie accomplishes what it set out to do. If you are a fan of Rocky or just a sucker for a feel good piece of fluff, this is the movie for you.

3 1/2 Yo! out of 5.


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