Saturday, February 03, 2007


RUNTIME: 102 min.
RATING: ****

A ringside commentator is so excited at the start of the exhibition match between old Rocky Balboa and Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), that he yells –“I’m a fan of this guy. I was a child when he fought and I never thought that I would see him fighting.”
Well that pretty much summed me. I was probably 10 when I first saw ROCKY on TV, when he was already my favorite actor with his Rambo movies, and I just fell in love with him. The character is such a sweet guy, he’s so good. There were a lot of things that remained with me regarding Rocky- his jogging in the morning, his insecurity before the fight, the small girl that insults him and of course “Gonna fly” with Rocky climbing the stairs, which as a matter of fact is one of cinema’s iconic images.
The subsequent sequels were good entertainers but were far removed from the quintessential Rocky Balboa. There was a certain simplicity about the man and the story that made the original so special. And by the time I was done with the fifth installment, Rocky was a distant memory, only to be enjoyed by watching the original but an adulterated character nonetheless.
So when Sylvester Stallone declared that he’s making the final installment of his most popular character, it was for me the last nail in the coffin box for one of my favorite characters. But little did I know that deep inside me the Rocky fan was always alive, rooting for cinema’s favorite underdog. And when the movie started with “Gonna fly”, I gotta admit, I had goose bumps. Go ahead Rocky, make my day. I couldn’t believe that I would one day catch Rocky fighting on the big screen.
The plot, implausible as it may be, has the current heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon reviled by audiences for not fighting a legitimate challenger. He has lost his complete self respect. After watching an animated boxing match between boxers of different eras where Rocky is shown to knock out Mason, his managers come up with an ultimate publicity gimmick. They have Dixon invite Rocky Balboa for an exhibition match as his tribute to old champions.
Adrian has died. Rocky and his son Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimigla) are not exactly enjoying the best of relations, where the son is too “busy” to meet his father. So Rocky lets day pass one after another, living in past memories, especially of Adrian’s as he goes about telling boxing stories at his restaurant “Adrian’s”. He’s nothing to look forward to, searching for a meaning for his existence. He’s sad and lonely but has no one to talk to except Paulie (Burt Young), his longtime corner man, when he meets Marie (Geraldine Hughes) or Little Marie as he calls him, the same girl that insults him when he advises her against mixing with the wrong boys in the first film. In her he meets a similar person who’s as lonely as him, except that she has a son. And when he gets a chance to get toe to toe in the ring, he realizes that there’s something in him, in his “basement” that needs to come out.
ROCKY BALBOA isn’t only a boxing movie, just like the original. It is about Rocky, the character whom we’ve come to love immensely. In fact, for the first hour or so, boxing hardly takes center stage. It’s about believing in yourself, something what the original stood for. When a boxing expert comments that Rocky couldn’t stand before Dixon, it made me realize how insecure champions can be. You may have won lots of accolades but the one thing that will always stick out is one unnecessary piece of criticism.
The movie tends to get a little heavy-handed at times, with its take on life and stuff. But once Duke says –“Let’s start building some hurting bombs” and Bill Conti’s “Gonna fly” starts, you feel like standing up and whistling. Sad, that I don’t know how to, but I was clapping nonetheless.
In many ways the Rocky franchisee and Sly Stallone’s career have gone hand in hand. It was 1976 when Sylvester Stallone saw Chuck Wepner go the distance against Muhammad Ali and he had his screenplay ready in 10 days. What’s more the film was ready in a month at a shoestring budget and the rest is history.
Sylvester Stallone is tremendous. All those people who wrote him off as an actor could eat their words now. This is his best work in ages. The performance is so heartfelt. The character, his nobility, the warmth and groundedness are so much to the fore in Stallone.
ROCKY BALBOA may be flawed. I have given it 31/2 stars, but looking back at my review, I have just described a five star movie. Hell this isn’t a review in the first place; this is a die hard fan’s ode to one of his favorite characters. ROCKY BALBOA is one of the prime reasons we go to the movies in the first place. You cannot root for a character more than for Rocky. When the match starts and Rocky starts throwing “hurting bombs” at Dixon, I was swaying with him. Punch him Rocky; knock the bloody daylights out of him.
Forget II, III, IV and V. ROCKY BALBOA is the movie that’s the ultimate heir to ROCKY, the greatest underdog story of all time. What the heck, count those four in as well. There cannot be a better send off for Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa. I am still smiling and Bill Conti’s music is still in my ears.

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