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March 12, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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Rocky Balboa

One night in the mid-’70s, struggling B-grade porn actor and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone wrote a script after watching a boxing bout on TV where underdog Chuck Wepner gave Muhammad Ali a run for his money. With a beat-up fedora, an old coat and slurred speech, a new folk hero was born: Rocky Balboa. What followed was a Best Picture Oscar (1976), and the sequels Rocky II with financial difficulties and a strained relationship with his muse Adrian, Rocky III where a hulking arrogant Mr T takes Rocky down a peg from his rock star lifestyle and the farcical Rocky IV where Dolph Lundgren plays a Soviet monster in a sort of pop culture zeitgeist of USA vs. USSR in the dying years of the Cold War.

We last saw Rocky in the abysmal Rocky V where he had a strained relationship with his son. It seemed at one point we would get an endless string of roman numerals preceded by the name Rocky, fortunately Stallone saves us from this by naming this film simply Rocky Balboa.

The movie kicks off with Rocky at Adrian’s grave site, harbouring ancient demons deep inside. In a sense it’s a return to the world of the original Rocky, with the mansions and fast cars left behind for a return to the dilapidated house in working class Philadelphia.

Rocky’s not poor; he’s got a restaurant, where, dressed in a red sports coat, he poses for fans’ photographs, but it’s a return to his old world as represented by the neighbourhood before he became an icon. His relationship with his son is still fraught with issues; the distance between them is breached when Rocky tells him he will always love him but he’d better believe in himself or he will never have a life. Real tear jerker and Oscar winning stuff…

Rocky comes out of retirement for an exhibition match with champ Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon played by former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. We then get the signature Rocky tune ‘Gonna Fly Now,’ interspersed with shots of him undertaking an arthritis-friendly training regime and once again running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Postmodern media plays a big part in Rocky Balboa. Firstly it’s the computer simulated bout between the legendary Rocky and contemporary champion Mason Dixon to determine the better fighter which brings Rocky out of retirement. Secondly there are cameos from Mike Tyson, famous ring announcer Michael Buffer and legendary boxing referee Joe Cortez.

Thirdly there is pay-per-view cinematography for the actual fight. Lastly we have Stallone himself who was fresh off the set of the successful reality TV show The Contender, where he probably developed the motivation to make Rocky Balboa. It seems at times that media crosses over to reality and back into fiction. At ring-side we have Mike Tyson taunting Dixon in the same way Mr T does to Rocky in III. The fact that Tyson was nowhere to be seen in IV and V is similar to the absurdity of television President Martin Sheen being forced to deal with contemporary Republican- made political issues in TV’s The West Wing.

The film’s final media play is the series of shots during the end credits depicting what appear to be tourists running Rocky-style up the steps of the Philidelphia Museum of Art, accompanied by the obligatory theme song. Rocky Balboa is not an amazing film, but it’s definitely a serious contender for the best Rocky sequel. Of course, the value of this is questionable considering the competition…

SYLVESTER STALLONE

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