THINK of "Rocky Balboa" as the "Rocky" film for those who can't be bothered counting up to six, or maybe for fighters who've taken so many punches to the head they need help remembering their hero's last name. Above all this is a film for gluttons for punishment, for those who never ever can get enough of Sylvester Stallone. Everyone else, please leave the building.
Directed, written by and starring Mr. S, this "Rocky VI" by another name is a kind of Museum of Stallonic Technology, the equivalent of having a tour around the greatest hits of Rockydom personally guided by the man himself.
Rocky running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Check. Furiously pounding away at sides of beef? Check. Checking in on turtles Cuff and Link? Double check. There are even enough flashbacks of former costar Talia Shire as the Rock's late wife Adrian to get her a mention in the credits.
It's been more than 30 years since Rocky Balboa won his first heavyweight championship, and time has hardly been kind to the ex-ex-ex-champion turned restaurateur. His middle is getting thick, his face thicker, and he spends so much time at Adrian's grave that he keeps a chair stashed in a nearby tree. Really.
Though strangers still covet his autograph, Rocky's son Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) wants as little to do with the old man as possible. Ditto his old pal Paulie (the inevitable Burt Young), who's turned into a sour and crabby Yoda. A woman named Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is somewhere in the mix, but even Rocky himself would be hard pressed to say exactly where.
The Rock isn't paying too much attention, but the world has a new heavyweight champion in the person of a soulless technician named, no kidding, Mason "The Line" Dixon (former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver). "All of boxing," a sportscaster operatically laments, "is hoping for a warrior who thrills us with his passions."
One guess who that might be.
That's right, despite being something like 60 and so out of shape he could star in a remake of "Dead Man Walking," Rocky ends up in an exhibition match with The Line himself.
The reason, in case you're interested, is that the old war horse feels he "still has some stuff in the basement." No, he's not talking about an old washing machine or a collapsed sofa. It's deeper than that. So the fight is on.
This scenario may have sounded reasonable on paper, but to see it on film defines implausible. Truly, there is not enough suspendable disbelief in the world to convince us that an aged, decrepit Rocky could rehabilitate himself enough to go toe to toe with the champ, no matter how many stairs he climbs or sides of beef he pounds. But Rocky promptly does just that, daring us to do something about it.
One of the odder consequences of this willfulness is that, instead of rooting for Rocky, who we all know will do just fine, we start to feel sorry for the clueless Mason Dixon who, like the unfortunate Washington Generals, is about to find out what it's like to take on the Harlem Globetrotters. The Line simply doesn't understand the deep wisdom of Little Marie when she says, "The last thing to age in somebody is their heart."
Unless it's their ego.
"Rocky Balboa." MPAA rating: PG for boxing violence and some language. Running time:
1 hour, 42 minutes. In general release.