a critiQal film review Rocky Balboa (2006)

Plot: After a computer simulated boxing match shows Rocky (Stallone) beating the current heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Tarver), Rocky feels the urge to step back into the ring. But, when his planned small town fights are trumped by a challenge from Dixon, Rocky has to decide if his need to be in the ring is outweighed by the mental and physical risks of competing in this high profile match.

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So, the Rocky series has been revived one more time for Rocky Balboa. Sure, the previews made it look interesting, a much older Rocky going up against the current heavyweight champ. But, Stallone is now 61 – do we really want to see him with his shirt off? Or is this going to be a case of the young beating up on a pitiful old has-been? Still, since it was a Rocky movie, we figured we’d put our doubts aside and check it out anyway.

Stallone, never really known for his dramatic acting, directs himself in this latest film – and tries to give himself as many dramatic moments as possible. Bad move. Stallone dramatizing is a bit painful to watch – with his slur more pronounced than ever, he mumbles his way through speeches meant to grab at the heart but instead grab a bit at the stomach. Stallone, like Rocky, is at his best when fighting, and in Rocky Balboa, that doesn’t happen until the very end.

Still, that’s not to say that Rocky Balboa is all bad. Milo Ventimiiglia (“Heroes” (TV)), as his son, struggles to bring some sort of interest into the film. His character is probably the most thought out of any character in the film – at least in the beginning. He’s trying to deal with the downside of having a famous father, namely that he isn’t able to achieve anything on his own. It’s a nice twist on the Rocky legend, since everything is coming up smelling roses for everyone else.

But, just when his character is really going strong, he suddenly does an about-face and gets into the corner. It just doesn’t seem plausible he would change that quickly, and really kills off the interest his character had built during the rest of the film.

Geraldine Hughes’ Marie, on the other hand, is the shining light of Rocky Balboa. She is the bright spot in an otherwise dull first half, as her budding friendship with Rocky seems the most realistic part of the entire film. Instead of everyone falling at his feet in awe, he knows he could easily push this girl away. And Stallone, surprisingly, is great at showing a bit of nervousness. The two of them easily capture that feeling of meeting someone new and trying to start a friendship – and maybe more.

This leads to probably the best moment in Rocky Balboa, and it’s something small: Rocky replaces a light bulb on her front step, and temporarily blinds himself when it turns on. Her laugh is carefree and light as he milks the moment a bit, and it’s probably the biggest touch of realism in the whole film.

However, there are a few momentous changes that will surprise the viewer. In Rocky V (1990), too many punches to the head had rattled Rocky’s brain, and his mental facilities were failing him. That’s gone completely, never to really be mentioned.

The other big change in Rocky Balboa is that Adrian, Rocky’s loving wife, has passed away. Sure, this opens up the film for his friendship with Marie and also lets us wander down memory lane with him. But, it also leaves a big part of the film to be consumed with him looking like a puppy dog that’s lost it’s way. The fourth major character in the film, sadly, is Adrian’s grave, who we visit with Rocky over and over again. A depressed Rocky? Why did Stallone think that was something viewers want to see? The audience comes to see a Rocky willing to battle all odds to beat his opponent – how the heck is he supposed to beat Death (Hey, Rocky vs. Death sounds like a good spoof to me – why hasn’t anyone done this yet?)?

But, what about the boxing? That’s what everyone came to see, right? When Rocky Balboa finally does get to the last match, Stallone, thankfully, still looks okay sans shirt. But, since the viewer only has gotten a vague reason as to why Rocky wants to fight this match (“the beast within”), the viewer hasn’t gotten into it as much as they have in the past films. The boxing doesn’t look as great as it has in the past, either, but still decent enough to get the viewers adrenaline going a little bit.

Going into Rocky Balboa thinking it’s going to be another great chapter in the boxing saga, you’ll probably come out disappointed. But, as a memorial to the rest of the series, Rocky Balboa isn’t half bad. This is the first Rocky film that hasn’t centered around boxing, and instead centers around Rocky’s personal struggle with old age. With the help of Milo Ventimiglia and Geraldine Hughes, you might make it through the first 3/4 of the film, and the boxing is decent enough to let you finish the film on a high note.

Rocky Balboa is decent, but definitely not as good as it could have been – or as good as most of us were expecting.

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