Inspired no doubt by the remarkable second round of George Foreman, who launched a winning comeback later in life, Sylvester Stallone has dragged his most beloved screen character out of retirement for one last victory lap before the lights fade.
All of which is well and good, and might even be inspiring, except Foreman was in his 40s whereas Stallone is pushing 60 with a wheelbarrow.
The first half of Rocky Balboa is a melancholy mood piece, and it's quite poignant to see the lovable lug in decline, still shambling around his old Philly haunts chasing ghosts of glory days.
Talia Shire wisely demurred rather than milk a dead cash cow, and so we discover that beloved wife Adrian has answered the final bell, and a heartbroken Rock just can't let her go. Even his crusty brother-in law Paulie (Burt Young) thinks Balboa's endless nostalgia is pathetic, and the two old farts bicker like grumpier old men. Most of the money's gone, but Balboa owns a tiny Italian bistro, which seems to survive on his fading celebrity as he regales diners with the same old tales of his battles long ago.
Also not charmed by Rocky is his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), who's mildly embarrassed by his pop's fame and wants to succeed in business without his help. They have several heartwarming father and son discussions too, all of which seem to take place on empty street corners late at night. There's also a blossoming friendship with a grown-up Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes), who was a bratty teen in the first film, and now has a teen son that Rocky tries to mentor.
All of this is sweet and endearing, until the entrance of the ridiculously named Mason "the Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver), a brash heavyweight champ who has run out of serious contenders. So, a good 15 years after he was declared medically unfit to fight in Rocky V, Balboa somehow mystically gets a shot at the current champion, after ESPN airs a simulated match-up, and sparks the hype machine.
All the good vibes engendered by the previous hour and a half evaporate the moment Stallone doffs his yellow and black robes to reveal a chest that looks like a child's balloon overstuffed with cottage cheese. Stallone has been in spectacular shape for decades, but even he can't kayo time and gravity, and, deep down, no one wants to see an action hero with man boobs. Hence, there's no way to take any of the in-ring action seriously, even by the shoddy standards of realism previously established in the series. On every punch he lets fly, Stallone seems in danger of being knocked out by his own saggy skin flaps. Doubly tragic is that real-life pugilist Tarver got woefully out of shape making this film, and then got pounded by Bernard Hopkins earlier this year, and it's safe to say his acting won't win him any gold belts. The movie has tons of heart and a nice message, but in the end the only thing it inspires is giggles. Real champs know when to toss in the towel.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].