Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Call me a cruel, bitter bastard, but sitting down to watch Rocky Balboa I wanted a fiasco. As a fan of Rocky III, IV, and V I expected nothing less. No film series descended deeper into camp than Rocky; from the homoerotic racing in short shorts on the beach, to Rocky's robot buddy (!!!), Rocky was a joke long before Rocky V which killed the series deader than Sylvester Stallone's career for fifteen years. V was supposed to be the character's swansong — the basic plot of that one, fifteen years ago, was that Rocky was too old, and too brainally damaged to continue to box — but a late-career malaise of Van Dammian proportions has sent Sly back to Philly for one more climb up the art museum steps. And I'm very sad to announce it's not a total embarassment. Certainly not as Rocky movies go; hell it's hard to argue it's anything less than the second best movie of the series though that's sort of like arguing that Superman Returns was a big improvement over Superman III (i.e. -- big whoop)

Balboa is the same story as V — Rocky struggles to accept a forced retirement and finds himself unable to connect with his distant son — with a couple main differences, first and foremost that Talia Shire's Adrian (as in "Yo _________!") has passed away a few years back and now Rocky is not only a loser, he's alone too. And, much to my shock, some of these moments are intensely moving. Stallone, terrible as he is in, well, pretty much every movie he's made since 1976, reconnects with the elements that made him and the first Rocky such a crowd-pleaser; somehow, he's made the character seem like just another average schnook once again. By Rocky III, the Italian Stallion looked like he was cut from marble and by Rocky IV was nigh-impervious. Here, Stallone actually looks old, tired, sad — even his weird, off-putting plastic surgery works by suggesting the lumpy, sagging visage of a guy whose been punched in the eyesocket a few too many times. And of course there are limitless layers of meta-ness to this Rocky: Stallone's career in the toilet he has, like Rocky, essentially returned from the highest of heights back down to the gutter; Rocky wants one more shot to prove what he can do, and so does Sly.

This is in no way to suggest the movie is any good (okay so the training montage — "hurtin' bombs!" — kinda is), merely that it isn't nearly as bad as it should be. I'll have to go looking for my so-bad-it's-good fix elsewhere; Code Name: The Cleaner looks promising.


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