Rocky Balboa

You can look at “Rocky Balboa,” the sixthand last, one hopesinstallment of the “Rocky” saga, that began exactly 30 years ago, from two perspectives. First, from the point of view of Sylvetser Stallone, the actor-star, whose screen career at age 60 is pretty much over. He has not had a successful picture in years, and with limited acting skills, his choice of roles must be narrow. But when you approach the retro, nostalgic film from a more detached and critical approach, you have to conclude that “Rocky Balboa” belongs to a recently growing category of “unnecessary remakes and sequels,” movies that have little to say thematically or artistically, and thus have no reason to exist other than a desperate effort to grab some box-office grosses.

The first “Rocky” was very much a product of its time, and its success, as I pointed elsewhere, had much to do with the zeitgeist. Released at the Bicentennial, Rocky's saga of an underdog coming out of nowhere paralleled the track of then President Jimmy Carter, who also came out of nowhere. (See Review).

Let me refresh your memory: In 1976, Rocky was a man with no future, working for a small time loan shark on the South Side of Philadelphia. When blind luck landed him the chance to enter the ring against reigning champ Apollo Creed, it was the million-to-one-shot of a lifetime. All Rocky wanted was to go the distance–his courage and perseverance, both in life and in the ring, gave hope to millions.

Thirty years later, glory has come and gone and Rocky Balboa, the one-time Italian Stallion, spends his evenings telling old stories to the patrons of his restaurant, Adrians, named after his late wife, whom he quietly mourns. In the first scene, we see Rocky at the cemetery paying tribute toand communicating with–his wife, a sight that recalls John Wayne doing the same thing (only better) in John Ford's “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

Rocky regularly visits his wifes grave; it's one spot on routine tours of all the places that meant something to him. The pet shop is boarded up, and he also reminisces in the ice skating rink, which is gone. A man of the past, Rocky is out there, among the bricks and rubble, still in his mind skating with Adrian, until Paulie snaps him out of it.

Rocky's son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia, best known for his TV work in “Gilmour Girls” and “Heroes”) doesnt want to spend time with his father; hes too busy trying to live his own life. Rockys attempts to reach out to Robert go unreciprocated. Though meager, Rocky's emotional relationship with his son is the last link to his wife Adrian. Robert suffers from the same problem endured by other children who live in the shadow of successful fathers. Since he cant compete with his father, Robert has chosen to live, dress, and do everything in diametrically opposed way to his father.

Time and knocks have humbled Rocky, deformed his fists, slouched his shoulders and taken away all he had except his old stories. But in his heart, hes still the same man, hes still a fighter, which sums up the main problem of the picture. Rocky is the same, only older.

Since Rocky has fought a wide gallery of opponents (black, Soviet, dark-haired and blonds), you may wonder who will he fight next It turns out to be Mason The Line Dixon, the reigning heavyweight champion distinguished only by the ease with which he took the title. Since Dixon has never had to prove himself, never faced a truly equal opponent, he's considered by fans to be all skill and no heart, exactly the opposite of the aging and soggy Rock. Dixon is deemed as a man with no real future in the sport, unlike (fill in.)

Things change, when a computer simulation matches Dixon against Rocky Balboa. The question posed by the narrative is: Who really would win if the two were evenly matched. The fight is as much about physical as about ideological force. Dixons skillful jabs and footwork are juxtaposed with Rockys passion and blunt force trauma. Dixons manager has an idea how to revitalize his clients career, and, suddenly, heavyweight boxing captures the publics imagination again.

At first, it seems like a lark, even a joke (good or bad depends on your view). Nonetheless, to Rocky, who's twice the age of Dixon, the prospect of a fight with Dixon is the second chance he never thought hed get–a billion-to-one shot to prove to himself and to those he loves that while the body changes, the heart only grows stronger. Like most American fables, “Rocky Balboa” is about dictates of the heart, rather than those of the body or mind. It's a film about continuing to believe in yourself against all odds–biology, sociology and politics included.

Like the first feature, “Rocky Balboa” is a one-man show, and a one-man production, so to speak. The movie is written and stars Stallone, who also directs and produces. For the sake of continuity, some of the franchise's familiar faces are used again. Reprising their roles from the original are Burt Young as Paulie, Rockys conflicted lifelong friend and brother-in-law, who has appeared in all six “Rocky” films, and Pedro Lovell as Spider, a one-time opponent who now lingers at Rockys restaurant because he has no where else to go.

The character of Marie, originally played as a teenager by Jodie Letitizia, got the biggest laugh in the first “Rocky” when she called out Screw you, creep, after he walked her home, saving her from a juvenile delinquency. Thirty years later, Rocky finds in Marie (Irish-born actress Geraldine Hughes) a kindly human, though not romantic, connection he desperately needs. Theyre completely alone in their lives. Rocky takes the time to visit Marie, and then takes her along on his new adventure. With his son Robert distant, Rocky reaches out to Maries teenage son, Steps (James Patrick Kelly III), inviting both mother and son to work at Adrians. A benevolent patriarch, Rocky mentors and protects Marie, and shows Steps the kind of attention he has never received.

Through five sequels, in theatrical revivals and home entertainment releases, the “Rocky” franchise has continued to attract new generations of viewers. Stallone seems to hold that “Rocky” strikes a resonant chord because audiences see themselves in the character. Hence, he sought to create a story that would connect these ideas to a new generation, and would also bring the character to a final and noble conclusion. In the press notes, he's quoted as saying: “The films central truth is that anything is possible if you believe enough. Its a pretty universal dream to try to rise up and take your best shot at life. You may not totally be successful but at least you had the chance. It's the biggest frustration a lot of people have in their own lives–never getting their shot.

Credits

“Rocky Balboa” is produced by Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King and Guy Reidel, with veteran Rocky producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff serving as executive producers. The creative behind-the-scenes team is led by director of photography Clark Mathis, production designer Franco Carbone, costume designer Gretchen Patch, and film editor Sean Albertson as film editor. The music, including the now iconic theme, is by its originator Bill Conti.

Movie Critics Response

Back in 1976, “Rocky” divided the film critics. The N.Y. Times' influential film critic, Vincenet Canby panned the picture, and so did the New Yorker's Pauline Kael. However, the newly created L.A. Film Critics Association split its Best Picture Award between “Rocky” and “Network.”

Oscar Alert

Stallone's character Rocky that launched his career and became a cultural icon around the world. Produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, “Rocky” was released by MGM in 1976 and became an international box office phenomenon and all-time movie classic. A low-budget sleeper that came out to nowhere, “Rocky” was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning the Best Picture, ahead of such legendary-and better–films as Scorsese's “Taxi Driver,” Sidney Lumet's “Network,” and Alan Pakula's “All the President's Men.” The film also won Oscars for director John G. Avildsen and editors Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad.