DVD Release Date:  March 20, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  December 20, 2006
Rating:  PG (for boxing violence and some language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  108 min.
Director:  Sylvester Stallone
Actors:  Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonia Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia

Yo, Adrian!  Rocky’s back – although sweet Adrian is gone.  And, although you’re probably bracing yourself for another bad sequel, as I was, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at this final episode in this series.

After years in the boxing ring, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has settled down to the simple life.  Having lost all his wealth, he’s back in South Philly, living in a modest home, the owner of a Italian restaurant called “Adrian’s.”  Unfortunately, the restaurant’s namesake passed away three years ago, leaving Rocky bereft.  And their only child, Rocky, Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), a Wall Street-type yuppie, won’t have much to do with dear old dad. 

As a result, Rocky’s life is rather sad.  His only fun is hanging out with Paulie (Burt Young), visiting Adrian’s grave and reminiscing about the good old days – which he does far too much of, in Paulie’s mind.  So when ESPN stages a computer-generated fight between Balboa, as he used to be, and the current heavyweight champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) – with Balboa knocking out Dixon, for the win – Rocky starts thinking.  He wants to be back in the ring again.  Not anything big, of course.  Just a few local fights.  Because he’s still got “some stuff in the basement,” ‘ya know?

Rocky applies for a boxing license and is promptly rejected.  After poignantly arguing his case, however, the committee grants the 50-something boxer his license – against their better judgment.  The decision makes headlines, and soon Dixon’s handlers have come a’callin’.  Why not fight Dixon, they say, in an exhibition match in Vegas?  Nobody will get hurt, they’ll all make a ton of money and Dixon will finally gain some long-needed popularity – as well as a worthy opponent, which has been the bane of his career.

Never one to turn down a fight, Rocky accepts and begins to train.  Cue the Rocky music, ‘cause it’s 1976 all over again.

Like most people, I went into this film with a lot of skepticism.  Naturally, I loved the original “Rocky,” which took home the 1976 Oscar for Best Film, with good reason.  And, like most kids who came of age in the '70s and '80s, I also saw all the action-packed, formulaic sequels – except for “Rocky V.”  I do know that Rocky suffered irreversible brain damage in that film, however, which is only minimally alluded to here, with slowness of speech and drooping features that appear to look more like a stroke.  So, watching this film, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had missed something.

Nevertheless, despite a very slow beginning and a somewhat sluggish pace throughout, I found myself enjoying this sequel to end all “Rocky” sequels (or so insists Stallone).  It’s much more like the original, with realistic characters and a nuanced plotline.  Of course, we’ve still got the skepticism, the training sequences (mercifully shortened), the Rocky music and the “go get ‘em” speeches.  But here, there’s no evil opponent.  Although Tarver’s surly character isn’t particularly appealing, and the real-life boxer can’t act at all, he’s not a straw man – and he sure looks great in the ring.  Much like Stallone, who at 60, is more fit than one could possibly imagine.

Rather significantly, this plot doesn’t revolve around the fight, which takes up only the last 30 minutes of the film.  Less focused on fulfilling your dreams, this is a movie is about believing in yourself, no matter how old you may be.  It’s the ultimate Baby Boomer feel-good film, but it’s pretty nice for the rest of us, too.  It’s about self-respect, second chances and the importance of doing what we love, no matter what the cost.  “The only respect that matters is self-respect,” says Balboa, in one of the film’s many great lines.

As writer, director and star, Stallone does a fantastic job on all fronts.  He’s both realistic and touching as the aging athlete with more heart than brains, and who tries to romance a childhood friend (Geraldine Hughes) without letting go of his dead wife (previously played by Talia Shire).  Unfortunately, like Ventimiglia, the Irish Hughes (who does a great Philly accent), doesn’t stand out.  But Young, as always, is compelling.

Stallone, who recently became a born-again Christian, also brings some nice spiritual overtones to the film.  We see this in all the “Rocky” movies, but here it’s more obvious, without being off-putting.  In one scene, a cross looms next to Rocky and his son, as they reconcile beside Adrian’s grave.  In another, a Christian friend reads to Rocky from Zechariah before his fight, about victory in Christ.  We also see Christian values on display when Balboa lets a former rival eat for free in his restaurant and when he treats Dixon with respect, both before and after the fight, which gives Dixon some of the dignity he’s been seeking. 

It’s “Christian filmmaking” at its finest – and a very fitting way to end the series.

AUDIENCE:  Mature teens and up

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Audio commentary by director/screenwriter Sylvester Stallone
  •  “Skill vs. Will: The Making of ROCKY BALBOA” featurette
  • “Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky’s Final Fight” featurette
  • “Virtual Champion: Creating the Computer Fight” featurette
  •  Deleted Scenes
  •  Boxing Bloopers
  • Alternate Ending

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A man drinks a beer in a bar where several people are drunk; a character who appears to be an alcoholic drinks and in one scene, is obnoxiously drunk.
  • Language/Profanity:  A few mild obscenities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Brief shots of men in underwear, shown in DVD extra.
  • Violence:  One character pushes and threatens another who is drunkenly threatening him; some boxing violence, including blood, a few injuries and some falls in the boxing ring.