As an ongoing public service, TheFeed goes out and sees and does things you might like, and then ruins the experience for you by telling you all about it. You might call it rude...we call it TheFeed Review. This time, TheFeed turns its gigantic eye to special correspondant Joe Lynch, who gave us this review of the newest Rocky film, Rocky Balboa.
Rocky Balboa. The name to most of us instantly conjures up so many feelings, images. We grew up watching this character (and the former porn star playing him) go from being the Philly Pallooka to the World Champ and back down to underdog again by the time we get to the dismal and misdirected Rocky V (funny note: Rock was originally going to die and thankfully they cut that ending out...not so sequel friendly I guess) but now Stallone is back in many respects with Rocky 6-er...Rocky Balboa. Like Apocalypto, I went in with little to no expectations, knowing how burned i was over Rocky 5....i mean, it's been 16 years since that nightmare-on-film, what's left for the Italian Stallion?
Well, quite a lot it seems. Rocky Balboa isn't about the fights, it isn't about his opponent or the training montage (I mean, you gotta have a montage, right Trey & Matt?)...it's about coming to terms with destiny and death (sorry The Fountain) and finding it in yourself to get one last chance for greatness. This film is the perfect bookend to the series, a true climax to Balboa's story, and Stallone, who also wrote, co-produced and directed, was smart in making the biggest challenge for Rocky being simply fading away into old age and obscurity.
The film FEELS old-fashioned; the pacing is deliberate and not catering to an A.D.D. addled audience of today, who needs an action scene every 8 minutes (Thanks Joel Silver). The tone is melodramatic, borderline saccharine and dips occasionally into schmaltz, but never seems false and pandering. Even the style feels saturated in the gritty Cheesesteak streets of downtown Philly with the high grain and harsh lighting...but go back and watch the first film and it's all there too, which makes this new film feel like an old friend with a few new stories to tell. Rocky Balboa is a total throwback to cinema of yore, the old-fashioned "feel good" movie that actually delivers on it's promise that many films forget to infuse.
Stallone himself, paunchy and weathered from the Hollywood storm after a few years of anonymity (and "D-TOX"...yuck), is f***ing wonderful in the film, balancing the weight of being a local champ (one of the great little touches is wherever Balboa goes in public you hear "Hey Champ!" or "Rock-ee!" as people pass which really grounds the reality) and the desperation of wanting one more shot despite the odds and everyone around him saying otherwise, which many will see as a reflection of Sly's recent career. I dont think anyone felt Spy Kids 3-D was what Stallone had in mind for a "comeback", but this is the film to do it.
In Balboa and as Rocky, you believe him. You believe the pain he goes through, the aching joints on a body pushed to the limit all too often, the mental strain of affecting those around him with what seems to be an insane idea (Basically Rocky's being challenged to a high profile exhibition match in Vegas with latest champion Mason "The Line" Dixon, who a "virtual Rocky" beat on ESPN when they created a "what if" match) and there are at least 3 monologues that Stallone delivers that are inspiring and emotional, and it reminds you that Sly is a well-versed writer as well.
Kudos also to Heroes' Milo Ventimiglia who plays Rocky's son (I guess Sage is on a timeout after doing David "The Demon" Defalco's Chaos), also conflicted with living in his father's shadow, and not only is it perfect casting -f**k they really do both have the crooked lip-but Milo really holds his own against Stallone. Of course Pauly is there, as well as the requisite training montage (which is f***ing awesome...people cheered upon its arrival) but this new Rocky is infused with a sense of fatalism that hovers over the story. This REALLY is the last we/the world will probably see Rocky in the ring again, and the audience who attended ATE IT UP. You'll be hard pressed to escape the new "I Liiike" overused catchprase in "Hurtin Bombs" when it's delivered by Rock's old trailer Duke.
This is a true crowd-pleaser, the kind that makes old folks say "they just don't make 'em like they used ta!" between oxygen tank breaths, and perfect for the holiday season filled with dour and downbeat Oscar entries (Letters From Iwo Jima, The Queen,Eragon...ok maybe not the last one). There were two separate moments where a crowd was roaring and clapping or chanting "ROCKY! ROCKY" where i though how amazing the surround sound in the Fox screening room where we saw the flick was...and realized it was actual audience members doing the cheering! That to me is the definition of a true "crowd pleaser" one we don't see too often, one we deliberately go to the movies for, that communal experience, and Rocky Balboa delivers a knockout of a family friendly holiday film that will have you walking out smiling...and humming that damned theme song.