December 21, 2006

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Rocky Balboa (PG)
Despite being 60 big years old, Sylvester Stallone climbs back into the ring to get batted around in Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the series.

This movie answers the question “can you make a movie entirely based on theme music?” Yes, Sylvester Stallone says, yes you can. The “da, da dadada da da, dum dum ; da, da dadada da da dum dum, DUM DUM” and the “duh na NAAA, duh na NAAAA” are really what make this movie worth seeing. I mean, 60 — you’re not going to see a boxing movie if it stars a man who is 60. You’re going to see someone say “remember that theme to Rocky, remember the training montages?”

Not that the plot pretense really needs to be explained in order to enjoy the movie but: Rocky (Stallone) is now a widower, Adrian (played by old clips of Talia Shire) is now just a headstone he brings roses to and has one-way conversations with. Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) is trying to make it at vaguely-mentioned financial profession and is desperate to wiggle out from his father’s shadow, brushing off dear old dad in an attempt to be his own man. Alone with his restaurant — called Adrian’s, naturally — where he tells customers stories of his battles and poses for photos, Rocky still burns to get out some inner beast. When a sports show’s computer simulation predicts that a Rocky in his prime would beat current undefeated champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), Rocky starts to think about boxing again. He begs the commission to allow him to fight in regional and exhibition fights and, because of some mighty humorous speechifying and because, you know, they’re nuts, they decide to allow it.

Meanwhile, Dixon’s managers decide that maybe an actual fight between Dixon and Rocky would be a good idea. Yeah, Rocky’s older than dirt, but Dixon’s image is lower than dirt. A friendly fight with a legend, they say, could restore Dixon’s popularity and make him seem less schmucky and more menschy. And Rocky, because of the beast which he also calls “stuff in the basement,” decides to do it.

Cue the training montage!

Duh na na-NA na-na-na-naaaaaa.

To say this movie is absurd is a vast understatement. It’s punch drunk and delirious. Everything about Stallone looks fake — from his too-tucked eyes to the punches he throws and takes in the fight, which is shot with so many quick cuts and crazy camera angles that you can almost never get Stallone clearly in your vision. Which, I assume, is what he wants.

The movie offers up the idea of Rocky with the same kind of haziness that it offers up old clips and ghostly appearances by Adrian. We get the main theme in minor key as we spend an inordinate amount of time watching Rocky think about the guy (or rather “da guy”) he used to be. We have to suffer through the hint of a romance with a much younger woman, Marie (Geraldine Hughes), who thinks Rocky might be sweet on her until she and we realize that Rocky’s still in love with the Adrian clips and just needs a girl to stand in his corner (or work at his restaurant, whichever spot is open at the time). We even have to watch some extremely hamfisted character development of Mason Dixon, a bad-attitude guy who deeply wants a real challenge. It’s a miracle the movie doesn’t put us to sleep before the montaging and the boxing begin.

And yet it doesn’t. Rocky Balboa actually succeeds at being exactly what it appears to be — another Rocky movie. Underdog themes and a performance that’s way more heart than talent trump the over-worn of the story and the clunky dialog. The movie is goofy but fun and by the end it’s actually kind of invigorating, with the audience ducking and weaving along with the action.

By the time we get to the low-key “yo, Adrian, we did it,” the laughter is both at and with the silliness. Rocky Balboa is joyous, entertaining and charming in spite of itself. B-

Rated PG for watching an old man get beat up and other boxing violence and some language. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by MGM.