Rocky Balboa

Year: 2007
Studio: MGM
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver
Let's be honest, the Rocky movies featured boxing, but they have never been about boxing. Written by Stallone over a long weekend, the original film was about escaping from poverty by getting your shot. Rocky II was a requiem of the original theme. Rocky III was about not being too complacent with what you've achieved and remembering to keep it real. Rocky IV was about the supremacy of American values in the Cold War. Rocky V – in the words of the ghost of Rocky's trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) – was about going 'one more round'.

And Rocky Balboa (as it's known after somebody at studio publicity probably pointed out how silly 'Rocky Six' sounded) is about the last desperate grasp for glory by a has-been after a long period in the wilderness. Whether that's about Rocky Balboa or Sylvester Stallone is interchangeable.

Ten years ago this year, Stallone appeared in the last film where he made any impact, the dramatically well-made Cop Land. After that he went into a decade-long nosedive of embarrassing parts in movies that bombed (or worse, went straight to DVD).

It was hard not to detect the whiff of desperation in the announcement of further instalments of both the Rocky and Rambo franchises. No matter what we say about Hollywood stars, there has rarely been a further fall for a former golden boy as there has for the Italian Stallion, and it must have hurt.

So how autobiographical Rocky Balboa seems is subjective, and every moviegoer will form his or her opinion. Those opinions will rest however on how hard both Stallone and Rocky have tried to give us something fresh. The now-hokey themes of Rocky were box office and critical gold in 1976, but we've seen variations on them five times so far, most recently in a film even Stallone himself has admitted didn't work. Balboa was actually supposed to die at the end or Rocky V, and Stallone must be thanking his lucky stars right now that he caved in on that decision, one he didn't support at the time.

What's both good about Rocky Balboa is the same as what's bad about it; the same story, the same techniques and the same execution. You still can't help getting caught up in the sweeping music of the match and the struggle Rocky goes through to get there and more than once you want to leap to your feet, punch the air and yell 'all right Rocko!'

And you're falling for the same hoary old chestnuts. There's the ubiquitous training sequence montage set to an uplifting, inspirational rock and roll track. In the climatic fight itself we see rounds 1, 2 and 10, the remainder set in the blur of another montage. Most of the time, despite feeling the swelling rise of anxiety, pride or satisfaction in your chest, you're reminding yourself you've seen it all before – five times, no less!

Stallone looks awful. Now 60 in real life, it's either good make-up or we really haven't seen him in a movie for 10 years. Veins bulge out on his head and chest, sweat pastes thinning hair to a pale scalp, and his speech-impeded slurring makes him look perpetually stoned.

But it's his show all the way. Aside from brother-in-law Paulie (young), the usual devices upon which a Rocky plot is strung – reconciling with family, the character development of his opponent and long-time trainer Duke – are given casual nods in very few scenes.

When Balboa is pitted against current champion Mason Dixon (Tarver) by a computer simulation that pairs the two are their respective peaks, the computer declares Rocky the winner. As one of the sleazy racketeers trying to set up the subsequent real-life bout says, it gets a lot of people curious, not the least Rocky himself.

This time it appears he needs to get in the ring again to put the ghost of his beloved Adrian to rest, who's died several years earlier, and make his now-grown son proud of him instead of feeling like he always has to step out of his famous Dad's shadow. We say 'appears' because it's never quite clear why Rocky does so other than because it's very hard to give up the top spot once you've been there – as Stallone would well know.

But the adept yet over-familiar execution and storyline has put Stallone back on top, albeit for a time. He's given us some good times over the course of his career so, like Rocky himself, he deserved one more crack at the title.

But this being the noughties, there's a completely new winner. The title actually goes to online casino Goldenpalace.com, with one of the cheekiest product placement deals of the year.

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