New York Magazine


Rocky Balboa
  Release Date: 12/20/06 (Future Release)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Rating: (PG)
  Running Time
  102 min
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Talk about not going quietly into that good night: In the sixth Rocky film, Rocky Balboa, old Sylvester Stallone tries to prove he’s still vital by making a movie about old Rocky trying to prove he’s still vital. Stallone might be a pathetic figure, but he sure is cunning when it comes to using that pathos to generate sympathy. Actually, he’s better at it now. The first Rocky worked because the director, John Avildsen, made the hero small in the frame—a shambling stumblebum whose improbable rise never seemed predestined. But when Stallone became a star and took over the Rocky reins, he moved the camera way up close to give himself he-man stature. Stallone’s impossible-to-please father had reportedly criticized his physique in the first film. Thereafter, he was so grotesquely swollen that all you could think was “Who’s puny now, Daddy?”

The camera in Rocky Balboa has been moved back, and once more we’re looking at a sorrowful mutt who never fully takes the space. Adrian is dead but Rocky runs her Italian restaurant, greeting the customers and recounting for them his champion fights, blow by blow: very sad—and realistic, given the second career of so many ex-athletes who open restaurants. Shortly thereafter, realism excuses itself and the 59-year-old Rocky gets a bout in Vegas with the reigning heavyweight champion. There’s another Adrian on the scene, a middle-aged colleen with a half-black child—but they don’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to the memory of Adrian, especially since Stallone superimposes her head over settings from the first film.

It’s not easy to look at Stallone. Whatever he did to his face is starting to become undone; parts of it are frozen while other parts droop, like the figures in House of Wax when they begin to melt in the climactic fire. He stares into the distance, and we hear Bill Conti’s Rocky theme with piano and strings. We wait, eagerly, for the trumpets to come back. They do, of course, and Rocky Balboa is one cornball go-for-it cliché piled on top of another, complete with the usual life lessons: Nobody’s gonna hit you harder than life. It’s how hard you can be hit that matters.

Does Rocky Balboa deliver? Weirdly enough, it does: I was jumping out of my seat during Rocky’s bout. If you close your eyes and try to halve your IQ—aim for something between a baboon and a lemur—you might even think it’s a masterpiece. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine