What’s next Sly, Rambo?
December 26, 2006
Having already heard and read about the many beatings “Rocky Balboa” had taken from critics, I debated whether to give it a day in court.
But as the owner of all five Rocky movies and having been profoundly affected by the original in 1976 (I woke up early, put on my sweats for my first day of roadwork, chugged some raw eggs…and barfed in the sink, putting an end to that dream for a while), Ivan Drago couldn’t have kept me away from the theater for its premier on Dec. 24.
So, if you have any plans whatsoever about seeing the movie and don’t want to know any details, this is your chance to stop reading.
First, let’s get something out of the way. Sylvester Stallone is 60 years old. OK? And in spite of the wonders that some black shoe polish can do for his hair and eyebrows, in spite of how a good body waxing can eliminate all body hair – gray or not – there is no getting around how old he is.
Any work of fiction – on the big screen or in a book – requires a suspension of disbelief. It necessitates a child-like ability to say, I know this isn’t possible, but….
But in spite of his incredible physique at 60, I just wasn’t able to buy into it, in spite of giving an effort that even Rocky would admire.
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The movie got off to a good start. Give credit to Stallone for some excellent screenwriting. Through the use of flashbacks, he takes the viewer down memory lane so well that it would take a heart of stone to not get choked up and an adrenaline system of a cabbage to not get amped up as the plot unfolds.
Rocky is without his soul-mate Adrian, who died in 1995 of “woman cancer.” And even though with the help of hair dye and (cough-cough) “supplements,” Rocky has aged well, there is no getting around that he has gotten a hell of a lot older.
But for a good part of the movie, that is a good thing.
It’s a good thing because it causes the viewer to realize that it’s been 30 years since we went to the theater and watched Rocky when it first came out. We’ve all gotten older. We’ve all lost people close to us. None of us are the same. And to that end, Stallone does an excellent job drawing us once again closer to this everyman hero that he created.
Rocky is three-dimensional, flesh and blood and so human.
I was hooked.
Say what you will about his acting and some of his over-the-top characters, whatever else he is, Stallone is a writer.
In addition to keeping his brother-in-law Paulie (played by Burt Young) ever so politically incorrect and repugnant, Stallone also subtly draws the contrast between how lower-income “street people” used to talk and act compared to now. And it made me long for the “old days.”
Now the owner of a restaurant, Rocky is not exactly well to do, but – as was Stallone’s stated goal – he’s redeemed from that somewhat gloomy world to which he was relegated at the end of Rocky V.
We see some old characters – remember Rocky’s first opponent in the original, Spider Rico? Well, now he’s a Bible-reading habitue of Adrian’s restaurant. Remember that mouthy, cigarette-smoking little brat whom Rocko tried to give advice (“Screw you, Creepo!”)? Now she’s a major character in this movie.
Rocky Jr.? He’s “Robert” now, a stock broker with a chip on his shoulder because he can’t escape his father’s larger-than-life shadow.
But things go south as soon as Rocky beats undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon, 33-0 with 31 knockouts, in a computerized match-up reminiscent of Rocky Marciano-Muhammad Ali.
Rocky always had a tangible reason to fight before. He never had to answer the line, what’s my motivation?
In Rocky, he just wanted to go the distance. In Rocky II, he wanted to win. In Rocky III, it was about overcoming fear and redemption. In Rocky IV, he had to avenge the death of Apollo Creed. And in Rocky V, he had to teach that punk Tommy Gunn (played by Tommy Morrison) a lesson – Philadelphia street style.
In this venture, there’s no real defining moment where Rocky feels he has to go on a mission – unless you count “What’s wrong with wanting to go toe to toe and say, ‘I am?'”
Another thing Stallone failed to do in this movie was to supply an unlikable antagonist to his protagonist. Dixon (played well by former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver) isn’t a bad guy.
In a case of art imitating life, Dixon rules a heavyweight division devoid of stars. He has the WBC belt and The Ring magazine belt, but he has no competition.
From the time that Rocky begins to train for the fight, I was left wishing the movie would end.
Put this in perspective: Let’s say we were lucky enough to have an undisputed, unbeaten heavyweight champion. Now how likely would it be that, say, a 55-60-year-old Joe Frazier would get a shot at him?
Now, let the beating begin.
Rocky, if you recall, hasn’t sparred since Rocky III in 1983. Including his fight with Clubber Lang, his exhibition against Drago (he didn’t spar for that, either) and his street fight with Gunn, that’s three fights in 23 years.
Rocky’s training regimen, which if it’s anything near real-life, can’t be more than 10-12 weeks tops. Yet here he is, pressing 315 pounds and squatting 500 pounds. Hell, I was pulling muscles getting out of my seat and walking down some stairs and I’m only 42.
In exhibitions – this was a 10-rounder, no less – boxers wear headgear and wear bigger gloves. Not Rocky. And if you get knocked down as savagely as a 55-60 year old Rocky predictably did, referee Joey Cortez is stopping the fight. Which he didn’t.
The fight, would it occur, would never be on HBO pay per view.
But here’s the absolute nadir of the film. In Rocky V, after his fight with Drago, Rocky suffered irreparable neurological damage and couldn’t get a license. In this film, he doesn’t get a license (hence the exhibition), but he passes all of his extensive battery of tests “with flying colors.”
Sorry, but Rocky’s kind of brain damage never heals. It’s the 25,000-pound elephant in the living room of the film.
Rocky loses a close decision. Again, it’s supposed to be an exhibition. But the most embarrassing part for Stallone is that he looks every bit his age when it comes to speed. No camera trick can take away from that fact that this is a 60-year-old man trying to look fast.
Tarver looks fat and Rocky looks like he would fail a performance-enhancing urine test. It’s that obvious.
The bottom line is the boxing action couldn’t get any more predictable or pathetic. And without boxing action, Rocky ceases to exist.
This was the first Rocky movie where I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for Balboa. In the end, I was looking for a giant wrapper to put over my head that read “World’s Biggest Sucker” for spending $17 for a ticket, a Coke and a small popcorn.
And the worst part was that I didn’t even have to try and chug raw eggs to feel like throwing up.
The moral of the film is this: There is no going back. What’s next, “John Rambo?”
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