Unless “Rocky VII” is Balboa boxing George Foreman in a retirement home or fighting Apollo Creed in heaven, “Rocky Balboa” will be the last we see of the Italian Stallion, and it really is a fitting goodbye. After the travesty of “V,” Stallone heard the disenchanted masses wanting more and set to work on the film he knew he had to make. A metaphor for his own career, “Rocky Balboa” sets out to prove that both Stallone and Rocky have what it takes to go the distance and be the best, even after all these years.

Angela Cesere
Same steps, same chucks, same Stallone. (Courtesy of MGM/Columbia)

We reunite with Rocky (Stallone) as an aging former champ who recently lost his wife, Adrian, to cancer. He barely talks to his workaholic son (Milo Ventimiglia, TV’s “Heroes”) and watches as the old neighborhood crumbles around him. In a world where professional boxing has become stale and routine, a computer simulation on SportsCenter predicts that in his prime Rocky would K.O. the current champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (real life boxer Antonio Tarver). The simulation gets a lot of people talking and the ex-champ thinking about what he’s still got left in him. Dixon extends a fight invitation and after a classic “Rocky” training montage, the Stallion is ready to come out of retirement. The old and new champions come together in a surprisingly fierce clash that closely mirrors Rocky’s first big bout against Apollo Creed.

The biggest disappointment of the film is Tarver’s Dixon. Previous “Rocky”

rivals have not been nearly as easily forgotten ranging from the cocky, charming champion Apollo Creed to the hulking Soviet terminator Ivan Drago. Dixon is entirely too static, not arrogant or vicious enough to inspire real hatred and not intimidating or bold enough to command the audience’s respect. Perhaps his character suffers from a lack of personality since Tarver is actually a real boxer rather than an actor. Whatever the issue, it drags the rest of the film down as the audience lacks a villain to really root against.

A large part of the film consists of Stallone’s Rocky giving monologues about “how things used tuh be” and how he “still gots sum stuff left inside a me.” It’s nice to see Rocky still has that loveable teddy bear charm from past films. But more often than not this time around, Rocky triumphs over his ultimate foe: the English language. The majority of his speeches come across as quite heartfelt and compelling. Corny lines that would normally have you rolling your eyes in other films feel right at home here, and only add to the awkward Balboa charm.

If Rocky’s brains or heart don’t do it for you, his body should round out the package. If you think a sixty-year old man can’t have an eight-pack, you’re wrong. With veins erupting all over his body like the Incredible Hulk, it’s clear that Sylvester Stallone hasn’t stopped hitting the “Bowflex” since the last film. It is truly impressive to see Stallone reprise this extremely physical role after all this time, and do so without missing a step.

Very rarely does a film series “need” to have another sequel. With films like “Indiana Jones and the Ravages of Time” and “Die Hard 4” in the works, sometimes it might be better to quite while you’re ahead. In this case however, “Rocky V” left a taste in fans mouths that needed to be washed away and “Rocky Balboa” was a sequel that absolutely had to be made. Stallone effectively places the bookend on this classic series and leaves fans satisfied. Just as inspiring as the first films, it’s a relief to see Rocky leave how we met him, a champion of the people.

Rating:3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Rocky Balboa
At Showcase and Quality 16

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