Rocky Balboa (2006)

Dir. Sylvester Stallone

As Mitchell and Joel knows, I didn’t really want to see this film–especially after actually sitting through Rocky V. (There’s an example of “1” film.) What changed my mind were a bunch of reviews saying the same thing: “I didn’t think this would be that great, but, it wasn’t that bad.” (The one that pushed me over the edge was the Village Voice reviewer saying that he wanted to hate this movie, but he really couldn’t.)

So do I agree with these guys? Well, yeah. It’s not as bad as I thought. However, I would have been fine, if I never saw this. Actually, there’s only one scene (and I can’t really think of any movie off the top of my head that I can say this about) that pretty much saves the movie for me. Without this scene, the movie would get at least a score of 3. (I’ll talk it this more later.)

I’m guessing that others would think the movie is OK, not super terrible. It’s definitely better than Rocky V, but that’s not saying much.

OK, the scene that saves the movie: Rocky is going to fight again, and his son goes to him to complain about how that will make his life more difficult (being in the shadow, etc.). Instead of feeling sympathetic, Rocky chastises his son about taking responsibility, about taking the hits from life and keep on moving forward. “It’s not how hard you can hit. Nothing can hit as hard as life. But it’s taking those hits and moving forward that count. That’s where winning takes place!” Or something to that effect. It’s actually a pretty good speech that is believeable, and, yes, a bit moving. It’s a theme similar to one of the major themes in the first film–“going the distance” with the heavyweight champ and proving your worth.

Unfortunately, everything around that theme–the characters, the side-stories–don’t really complement that theme very well. Here are some of the problems I had with the film (and there are probably a lot more):

1. The whole motivation for Rocky fighting again is weak. There’s a scene where Paulie confronts Rocky about this, and Rocky says, in an emotional scene, that “there’s a beast inside him.” It’s totally not believeable, in terms of the storyline and the acting. There’s nothing that convinces me that this is true;

2. The whole motivation for the villian (Mason “The Line” Dixon–couldn’t they come up with a better name than that?) fighting Rocky is weak. The idea that a doctored fantasy video match-up would seriously entice him to fight Rocky is just ridiculous. And don’t bring up the lack of popularity angle either. The rationale by Dixon’s promoter that Dixon would take it easy on Rocky and get the fan’s adulation is just stupid. By the way, the Antonio Tarver as Dixon was very bland–his personality, acting and his fighting style. Boring. At least you cared about the fights between the other villians (except for Tommy Morrison and the Don King character in Rocky V).

3. It was nice seeing Spider Rico and Little Marie, but it really didn’t add much to the story. Yeah, Rocky’s a nice guy. But what did that have to do with him and the fight? To me, this whole side story was a waste. Btw, Larri really didn’t like the Little Marie character because she kept thinking she would replace Adrian as the new love interest.

I can’t think of other problems with the film, but there are probably a lot more. This is not a good film, but it’s not as bad as you would think.

2 Responses to “Rocky Balboa (2006)”

  1. Mitchell

    I saw this today. Finally. I’ll speak of it generally at first and then give a spoiler warning ahead.

    You know what? While I agree with a lot of what Reid says, and I agree it’s not an especially good film, I have to say that I really, really like it. So I have to sorta address that, because I was in TEARS more than once, and I was ON MY FEET a couple of times.

    The weaknesses Reid mentions are valid. Little Marie was a distraction, and I didn’t like the way Burt Young did Paulie this time (and I love Burt Young and I love Paulie). Some of the characters’ motivations are unconvincing, including Rocky’s.

    However: Tony Burton as Duke is solid again, and it was great seeing him back in Rocky’s corner. Thank goodness Sylvester Stallone didn’t get his son to play his character’s son again — the actor who plays Rocky Jr. in this film does a decent job. The final act is shot and edited in a terrific, seventies-feeling way that I really dug. As the writer, Stallone gives Rocky those goofy little jokes that remind us why he was such a likable character before he ever fought Apollo.

    And that’s about it! On a completely objective level, it’s not an especially well-made film, but let’s forget about objectivity and consider what this film did to me. Because I was moved by this film. For sheer effectiveness, I’m putting it behind I and II and just ahead of III.

    Rocky the character, as I mentioned in conversations with Reid, is a part of the consciousnesses of men my age in a way no other film icon can claim, I believe. Something about Rocky has seeped its way into the way a lot of us see the world and ourselves. The argument could be made that that “something” has always been there, that it is part of the American culture that is fascinated with the Cinderella story and the idea that if we just try hard enough, we can accomplish what we want, or at least get a fair shot. However, I suggest that Rocky gave me the iconic figure that made the ideal real for me. Perhaps it would have been Muhammad Ali if I’d been a little older, or maybe it could have been someone else if I’d been younger, but I am old enough to have seen Rocky II at just the right time, and old enough to have waited in line to see Rocky III on opening day when I was a teenager. Rocky is a lot like the crosses many of us wear around our necks: He’s a sort of symbol of something profound and important in ways that sometimes go beyond words.

    That may be going a bit far. If I’d written those words last night, I’d already be regretting it today if I hadn’t seen the film. But I saw the film today, and it feels right.

    Rocky IV felt like taking the metaphor too far. Rocky V felt like a betrayal of the metaphor. Stallone himself uses the word “negligent” about that film and I have to agree. Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the series, felt like a return, like a reminder of stuff we used to believe in but maybe aren’t so sure of anymore. Everywhere you look in this film is a reminder of those earlier films (and that’s probably why Little Marie and Spider Rico (and Cuff and Link!) are in there — Apollo and Mickey are dead, after all); many of the lines of dialogue seem right for the character; many of the gestures and mannerisms bring us back to the way we remember Rocky, and I bought it.

    There are people my age, women especially, who haven’t seen these films and have to be reminded which film was III and which was IV. My comments are irrelevant to these people. These people will probably think of this as just an all right film.

    In the closing credits, we are treated to a montage of all kinds of people running up the famous steps in Philadelphia Rocky famously sprinted to the top of, jumping up and down with fists in the air. There’s a joy here, where people are connecting to their memories of a beloved film character in an unforgettable film sequence. This movie felt like running up those steps. When those old people, small people, young people, and large people jump up and down in imitation of Rocky Balboa, my heart leaps with them.

    So without apology, I’m giving this film a solid 8 out of 10, even while acknowledging that Reid’s 5/10 is probably closer to its actual quality.



    I’m with Reid: that scene out on the street where Rocky yells at his son IS a very good scene, but there’s a scene before it that I think makes that scene better. When Rocky stands before the Pennsylvania Boxing Commission and his application is rejected, he starts to leave the room, as dejected and despondent as he’s been all through the film so far, but then he comes back and we see some of the Rocky we used to know. Pow! I was like, holy cow, that’s what the film has been missing so far. That’s what convinces me that there’s still something in there that wants to fight — if not to box, at least to do SOMETHING, and fighting is what Rocky knows how to do. When Rocky’s yelling at his son, he could be yelling at the person he himself has become over the past few years since Adrian’s death, and that scene at the boxing commission is the first hint that any of that is still there.

    Here’s a question for those who’ve seen it: During the fight with Mason Dixon, were you hoping for the believable ending, or where you hoping for the fairy tale ending? I…wasn’t sure myself! I kept going, “Oh, I hope Rocky pulls this one out, just so I can believe again!” and then, “Geez…Rocky better not win this thing!” The ending we got, I think, is the right ending. I love how Rocky is already walking back to the locker room before the results are even announced. He’s already won, whatever the outcome. Excellent. And I think the outcome is right. I mean, George Foreman showed that if you could take a beating at an advanced age, all you needed for some of these guys was to land a couple of really good ones, right? That’s how Riddick Bowe made his whole career, after all, and he was young.

    The DVD I saw (stolen from Charles’s house) had deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Did you see those? I’d like to have seen some of those scenes in the film, but boy, am I glad we didn’t get the alternate ending.

    I’m going to watch it again tomorrow with the director’s commentary. Can’t wait.

  2. Reid

    I agree with Mitchell that Rocky is an important icon for people of our generation. The character and the first several films mean something to me. (Rocky is in my top ten all-time film list.) But that alone won’t make the film work. Yes, his mannerisms and spirit were like the Rocky we knew, but the things that surround the character–the storyline, the motivation of the characters, etc.–are not very true or compelling.

    I was watching a bit of Rocky II last week, and, while I tend to look at the films after the first one as significant less better, Rocky II is solid entertainment. The director executes the plotting well and the motivations of the characters all ring true. Apollo has to fight Rocky again because people are accusing of faking the first fight. He’s a champion, so he has to fight Rocky (even though Tony tries to convince him not to)–even if it means becoming the “bad guy.” Rocky eventually has to fight Apollo because of this challenge and he realizes he can’t really do anything else. It’s all good theater.

    Those elements are completely missing in Rocky Balboa. So while Stallone brings Rocky back to life, the plot and characters surrounding him are ridiculous or bogus. When he gives the speech to the boxing commission, the lines are not bad and Stallone gives a solid delivery, but the reason he’s fighting–“There’s a beast inside me”–is silly. Since when did he have this beast? He never fought because of this “beast” in other films. There’s also no compelling drama for fighting Mason-Dixon, unlike the first four films. Why’s he fighting? Because he doesn’t know how to do anything else? OK. But that’s not very compelling on a dramatic level.

    Mason Dixon was also a terrible villian. He really wasn’t a villian, which partly made the contest dull. That’s partly why I didn’t really care about who won the fight or how the film ended. (I don’t see the comparison between Riddick Bowe and the Rocky in the recent film.)

    As much as I like the character, that’s not enough of a reason to make a film with that character. The story has to justify using that character. The first four films–while the stories may not be all great–at least accomplish this. Balboa fails to do that, imo.

    Let me brainstorm some possible storylines that might have justified making another film:

    –How about having Rocky become a trainer? Well, that was what happened in Rocky V. I think the idea of Rocky become poor–coming full circle–and then working with someone else might have been interesting;

    –The theme of the first film makes it the best one–namely, getting self-worth just by going the distance. Is there another situation/context where we see that heart of Rocky manifest itself? In other words, maybe the film wouldn’t be about boxing at all. In other words, it’s not that fact that he’s a boxer that makes us love Rocky, but it’s his heart and determination (plus the fact that he is a kind-hearted person) that make him special.

    I don’t know that’s just some thoughts off the top of my head. The main point is that if you can’t think of a good enough story, you shouldn’t make the film–no matter how much you love the character.

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