|Rocky Balboa (2006)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Burt Young
Director: Sylvester Stallone
There’s not a whole lot that Sylvester Stallone can be proud of in his long career as an actor, but playing two of the most memorable franchise characters in film history earns you the kind of respect required to greenlight as many meaningless sequels as you want. At least, that’s the only explanation that seems to justify the production of yet another “Rocky” movie (not to mention another “Rambo” flick, due out in early 2008), because while the underdog story will never cease to inspire audiences everywhere, the cheesy premise of the series wore out its welcome long before that embarrassing chain of sequels was finally put to rest 16 years ago. And yet here we are again: the Italian Stallion is back for another round, and the audience is cheering louder than ever.
Rocky Balboa (Stallone) may still be a local celebrity around the streets of Philadelphia, but his legendary journey has become a thing of the past in the world of sports. Following the death of his wife, Rocky has become a walking montage of memories with no real desire to move on with his life. He spends his days reminiscing the past at the foot of Adrian’s tombstone, while he works nights at the restaurant he opened in her memory. His son, Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), wants absolutely nothing to do with Papa Balboa – who he feels has cast a large shadow over him since he was a kid – and when Rocky announces his desire to make a comeback, he's a little reluctant to jump on board in support. The opponent in question is Mason “The Line” Dixon (real-life boxer Antonio Tarver), the young, undisputed heavyweight champion who’s been criticized for padding his career with unworthy challengers. So when an ESPN poll features a hypothetical Then & Now match-up giving Rocky the edge over Dixon, the champ agrees to the highly-publicized Las Vegas exhibition.
Celebrating his 60th birthday this year, Stallone hasn’t aged exceptionally well (he looks like the human equivalent of roadkill), but he does a decent job of cleaning up for the big finale. Unfortunately, his opponent is a complete joke when compared to past villains, and although the final fight sequence will still have fans on the edge of their seats, it doesn’t generate the same kind of suspense as when Rocky first stepped into the ring with dudes like Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren – the kind of guys that actually made the audience fear for his safety. It’s not the fault of first-time actor Antonio Tarver, either. Dixon is about as lifeless as a villain can get, and you couldn't care less what happens to him when all is said and done.
Perhaps my biggest issue with "Rocky Balboa" is that it’s not particularly good or bad – it’s just sort of there, lingering around as one of many “Rocky” stories that didn’t really need to be told, but was anyways. Then again, at least it doesn’t feel as contrived as some of the other sequels, which became all too predictable by the time the abysmal “Rocky V” was released in 1990. Nevertheless, there’s a poetic simplicity to this tale (which could be just as much about the has-been boxer looking for some much needed closure as it is about the has-been actor), and we can only hope that this time he really means it.
The single-disc release of “Rocky Balboa” features a nice collection of special features, including a director commentary by Sylvester Stallone, deleted scenes, bloopers, and three production featurettes covering everything from the making of the film, filming of the final fight, and creating the computer fight.