Rocky Balboa (PG)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
Over the closing credits of this sixth installment in the Rocky series, the audience is treated to images of ordinary people running up the now-iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and striking fists-skyward poses. It's a fitting wrap-up Rocky Balboa is mostly a conversation with the 30-year history of cinema's most enduring underdog.
Today, the "Rocky" name alone remains shorthand for a long-shot triumph so why not have him return to the ring after he's already become eligible for movie theaters' senior discounts? Once you get past whatever snickering the notion of a 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone trading jabs might inspire, you might notice that Rocky Balboa isn't a half-bad idea for a movie.
The film opens with Rocky (Stallone), now widowed and running a Philadelphia restaurant named after his beloved Adrian. But wearing a red blazer and playing host only captures his interest so far, and soon he feels the fire in his belly to fight again.
He finds an improbable opponent in undefeated heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (real-life fighter Antonio Tarver), whose utter dominance has failed to win him many fans. To Dixon, the fight offers a chance for him to be discussed in talks about the great fighters; for Rocky, it's a chance to go out on his own terms.
For the audience, it's an opportunity to be reminded of what an endearing character Rocky was. Here Stallone re-discovers Rocky's fundamental decency and almost corny courtliness, turning in a nicely pitched performance as he befriends and becomes benefactor to neighborhood barmaid Marie (Geraldine Hughes). He's funny, charming and self-deprecating the guy we saw before Stallone became an action-film cartoon.
This budding relationship also serves as a pivot point for Rocky Balboa's backward-looking mood. His not-quite-a-courtship with Marie whom he once knew as a local kid becomes an opportunity for him to return to an earlier time, but Stallone's also playing a guy who's trying not to think of himself strictly in the past tense.
Unfortunately, he's also trying to pack a little too much into his movie. There's some tension as Rocky's son (Milo Ventimiglia) tries to wrestle with being in the shadow of his famous dad, and an awkward subplot that finds Paulie being forced into retirement (giving Burt Young ample opportunity to fume and bluster). Many of the character interactions feel truncated, including Rocky's near-mentoring of Marie's teenage son.
By the time we reach the final fight sequence over-directed into a mish-mash montage it feels as though Stallone has tried to do so much that he's forgotten why a lot of people come to Rocky movies in the first place.
Yet while Rocky Balboa underachieves as a showcase for actual boxing there's only a smattering of the bombs-away, nobody-ever-blocks-a-punch stuff we've come to know and love from the series it's interesting as a commentary on how lackluster a sport boxing has become since the original film's release.
There's definitely a "things were better back in the day" feel to Stallone's story, but not in a cranky way. He simply wants to give a character he cares so much about an appropriate send-off, one that honors his legacy. For all its clunkiness, Rocky Balboa is moderately enjoyable though less for what Rocky has become than as a paean to everything Rocky once was.