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Ready to Root for "Rocky" Again?

Although it’s not actually being promoted as Rocky VI, for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what "Rocky Balboa” is. But I’m wondering how that can be because as far as I remember there have only been four other “Rocky” movies in the last 30 years.

OK so technically there was a “movie” called “Rocky V” that came out in 1990. But I think Sly is pretending it never happened so we should do the same. He’s probably thinking that if he were to call his new movie number six, it would lend credence to number five, and we just can’t have that.

In any case I suppose now’s as good a time as any to take a run up the museum steps of our memories and explore how exactly we got here. So throw a towel around your neck and rock your gray sweatsuit, here we go.

dant…dant-dant-dant…dant-dant-dant…dant-dant-dunn…

"Rocky" (1976)
Directed: John G. Avildsen
Written: Sylvester Stallone
Plot: A small time Philadelphia boxer gets a once in a lifetime chance to fight the heavyweight champ, Apollo Creed, in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.
Awards: Nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1977 including “Best Actor in a Leading Role.” Won for “Best Director,” “Best Film Editing” and “Best Picture.”

Sly Stallone becomes just the third person in history to be nominated for acting and writing in the same year following, get this, Charlie Chaplin for “The Great Dictator” and Orson Welles for "Citizen Kane".” I know. It’s ridiculous that the man that would set the record for most consecutive Razzies could be mentioned in the same sentence with those two icons. But hey, it was the 70’s and people were listening to Disco.

Rocky would later be ranked the #7 all time “Greatest Movie Hero” and the #4 “Most Inspiring Film of All Time” by the American Film Institute. Incidentally, the sole purpose of the AFI apparently is to devise new ways to list movies. Sweet gig.

"Rocky II" (1979)
Directed: Sly
Written: Sly
Plot: After his fight with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky decides to live a peaceful life with his wife Adrian (Talia Shire). Unfortunately, he soon runs out of money, so he is forced to accept Creed's offer for a rematch.
Awards: “Best Film,” American Movie Awards and “Favorite Motion Picture,” People’s Choice Awards, USA in 1980

Although not an awful movie it definitely falls into the dreaded, “why did they make a sequel to that?” category. The dramatic double knock down at the end is simultaneously awesome and awkward. Plus, who can ever forget “Yo, Adrian! I DID IT!” It was “Show me the money” before there was “Show me the money.”

"Rocky III" (1982)
Directed: Sly
Written: Sly
Plot: Having defeated boxer Apollo Creed twice (once figuratively, once literally), Rocky now finds himself in an excellent position to take it easy for a while. He develops a great friendship with Creed and spends more time with his wife. However, when newcomer Clubber Lang defeats him, no one wants to know him any more. Only Creed manages to persuade Rocky to organize a re-match.
Awards: Nominated for 1 Academy Award in 1983 for “Best Music, Original Song.”

Ok, aside from signaling the beginning of the end of the Rocky franchise with a fitting metaphor in the death of Mickey (Burgess Meredith), this movie has 6 redeeming qualities:

1) The film stars Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. I can’t even put into words how culturally significant this is. Changed my life, and that of many others I’m sure.
2) We’re treated to some of the best dialogue ever captured on film. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Interviewer: Do you hate Rocky?
Clubber Lang: No, I don't hate Balboa. I pity the fool.

Interviewer: What's your prediction for the fight?
Clubber Lang: My prediction?
Interviewer: Yes, your prediction.
[Clubber looks into camera]
Clubber Lang: Pain!

3) Heavyweight boxer Earnie Shavers was considered for the role of Clubber Lang because Sylvester Stallone thought that he was good enough to fight a real boxer, instead of an actor. But in a practice fight Shavers broke two of Stallone's ribs in less than three rounds. He was immediately dropped from consideration for the role. That’s just hilarious.
4) The montage in the film (they all have one) features Rocky on ”The Muppet Show”. That is actually a real episode that Sylvester Stallone was the guest star of on January 9, 1979. For this movie, Jim Henson dubbed in Rocky's name during Kermit's introduction. Muppets make everything better.
5) During one of the training sequences, Rocky and Apollo are racing along the beach in the shortest shorts and the highest socks. It’s truly an eighties moment for the ages.
6) "Eye of the Tiger.” Oscar nominated. It’s arguably the greatest song ever written…for a boxing movie…ever…arguably.

"Rocky IV" (1985)
Directed: Sly
Written: Sly
Plot: When Rocky's old friend Apollo Creed is killed during a fight with superfit Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, Rocky blames himself for the death when he could have thrown in the towel before the crucial moment. Fuelled by the Russian's arrogance, Rocky arranges a fight with the new champion, only this time in Russia.
Awards: Nominated for 9 Razzie Awards in 1986 (by now you should have noticed a healthy slide in this particular category). Sly would go on to win two for “Worst Actor” and “Worst Director” and Brigitte Nielsen (who would later become a train wreck on VH1’s “The Surreal Life”) wins two for “Worst New Star” and “Worst Supporting Actress.”

Speaking of train wrecks, this movie is about as close as you can get without being the prisoner escape scene from "The Fugitive". However, it’s also probably the most fun to watch of the three previous films because it’s so absurd that it can’t help but be completely entertaining. Plus, who doesn't love music montages?

Here’s what we “learn” from this film:

1) Rocky Balboa single-handedly ends the Cold War (take that Reagan).
2) Siberia looks like a really shitty place to live.
3) Russian boxers train in skin tight, white singlets while being hooked up to random machines with arbitrary blinking lights.
4) Dolph Lundgren is a big scary man with a ridiculous haircut but he “must ‘bdreak’ you”
5) James Brown is a tremendous actor as long as he’s playing James Brown.
6) Adrian is the exact opposite of a supportive wife until the last 10 minutes of the film.
7) “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.” Amen Rock, Amen.

Alright, here’s the scoop on the “other” movie. We dare not write its name. Read this, then forget all about it. I’ll also understand if you want to skip this section entirely.

"_______"(1990)
“Directed": John G. Avildsen
“Written": Sly (duh)
“Plot": Rocky Balboa is forced to retire after sustaining permanent brain damage (no really, doc said so) in the ring by the Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Returning home after the Drago bout, Balboa discovers that the fortune that he had acquired as heavyweight champ has been lost in small part by his drunken brother-in-law Pauly (Burt Young). After all, he’s a drunk. His boxing days over, Rocky begins to coach an up-and-coming fighter named Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (really). Rocky cannot compete, however, with the high salaries and glittering prizes being offered to Gunn by other managers in town.
Awards: Nominated for 7 Razzie Awards in 1991. Shockingly, it wins none.

Clearly, I have a couple of issues with this flick (aside from the fact that it’s calling itself Rocky). In no particular order:

1) The film allegedly picks up upon Rocky’s triumphant return to the states (as you recall he was in Russia ending the Cold War in the last film). I say allegedly because his son, Rocky Jr., has aged something like 6-8 years since Rocky’s been gone. What the hell happened? Was his week in Russia in another dimension? We’ll get back to Jr. in a minute.
2) Real life boxer Tommy Morrison plays Tommy “Machine” Gunn, which is only a problem because he’s a terrible actor. I mean come on. If you’re an actual boxer who’s playing a fictional boxer in a movie about boxing and you suck at it, that’s a problem. The acting apple didn’t fall far from the tree of great-uncle John Wayne; it’s in a whole other orchard, of oranges.
3) The character George Washington Duke is “based” on real life boxing promoter Don King. The character even goes so far as to use Don King's catchphrase of "Only in America". I think we can all agree that one Don King is enough, thank you.
4) Sylvester Stallone originally intended for Rocky to die after defeating Tommy Gunn in their streetfight, however he had second thoughts and rewrote the ending, claiming "it would be like killing off Superman". Really? Superman? Sounds like someone needs to get over himself.
5) In order to really illustrate how much Rocky is ignoring his own son in lieu of Tommy Gunn (man that hurts just saying it) throughout the better part of the film Jr. gets his ass kicked by, and I’m not making this up, a bully that takes his lunch money. Oh good lord, are you serious? How lame a plot device is that?
6) “V” marks the return of Director John G. Avildsen. As you’ll recall it was Mr. Avildsen that won the “Best Director” Oscar for "Rocky". Clearly Sly noticed that his precious franchise was headed into the crapper and was hoping that JGA could work some magic. Unfortunately for both men, you can’t polish a turd.

I think it's also worth mentioning that during it's "Balboathon", SpikeTV, has played 1-4 back-to-back about a dozen times but has yet to play Number 5.

Well, we made it through all four films (alright five). Let’s retire while we still have a little dignity left.

What that’s you say? Rocky’s throwing the gloves on for one last hurrah? Well, we can’t miss this. Grab your pork pie hat and fingerless leather gloves as we check out the final bout (please god) of one Robert “Rocky” Balboa.

"Rocky Balboa" (2006)
Directed: Sly
Written: Sly
Plot: ESPN is airing virtual boxing matches, which pairs up fighters from different eras. In one such match between young Rocky and the current champion Mason "The Line" Dixion, Rocky wins. Seeing this virtual fight makes Rocky remember how much he misses being in the ring so he re-registers for his license. This inevitably creates a media firestorm. With his relationship with his son on the rocks and his beloved Adrian taken by Cancer, Rocky decides to take up the offer for an exhibition match with the champ.
Awards: Not likely.

Things that don’t bode well for this film:

1) Sly Stallone is 60 years old. I’ll give that a minute to sink in. 60. Rocky should be hitting up the senior citizen discount at Denny’s not sides of beef in a meat locker. He could break a hip.
2) Mason “The Line” Dixon (good lord) is played be real life boxer Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver (the first fighter to knockout Roy Jones Jr). Did we learn nothing from that “other” movie? I guess we can only hope that being a better boxer translates into being a better actor.
3) Sly’s real son (Sage Stallone) who played his fictional son in the “other” movie isn’t even in this one. What was that conversation like? “Oh, hey Dad. Rocky 6 huh? Wow, um, well, I kinda got other things going on right now so I’m gonna have to pass. Nice talking to you though. Good luck with that.” Yeesh.
4) No Adrian. Can you even have a Rocky movie without Adrian? I mean, I’ve never been a huge fan but not having her in the film is like Axl Rose touring with a new G’n’R. Sure the songs are the same but something’s just not right.
5)The whole, simulated-virtual-fights on ESPN thing is so weak. I mean I’ve seen some lame crap on ESPN (cup stacking anyone?) but I’m just no feeling it. I understand that Sly’s trying to be timely (you know kids and their video games) but to think that the outcome of a virtual fight would drive Rocky back into the ring is ludicrous.
6) Call me crazy, but the last time there was an "exhibition" match in a "Rocky" film, it didn't really work out to well for the good guy.

On the other hand, there is a silver lining…

1) I think the real reason “V” didn’t work was because it broke the Rocky formula. The first four films are all about hope and beating the odds, you know real underdog type of stuff. They’re made so that we root for Rocky. The last movie was just about kicking the crap out of some young punk ass. It looks like “6” is going back to the formula in that Rocky is trying to not go quietly into the night. Whether you root for him or not is up to you.
2) The movie poster. I know this seems like an arbitrary thing but it’s the first time since the original where we get a grainy, black and white, triumphant Rock at the top of the steps type of image. Sure, it’s probably just good marketing but it makes me nostalgic just the same.
3) It’s still a “Rocky” movie. Sure he’s old, Adrian is gone, and the inspirational sports underdog movie has been done to death since the original came out (“The Karate Kid,” “Rudy,” “Cinderella Man” etc.). But it’s Rocky. I don’t know how else to explain it. You either get it or you don’t.
4) To say that Sly Stallone has been unable to capture the spark that got him nominated for a “Best Actor” Oscar in 1977 would be an understatement. I mean the dude has the record for the most Razzie nominations. I’m not saying he’s going to win an Oscar for this flick but I do get the feeling that it’ll be better acted (on Sly’s part anyway) than most people think.

When the Sly wrote the original screenplay for “Rocky”, he was Rocky, the story was his. Rocky’s struggles as an unknown boxer were Sly’s struggles as an unknown actor in Hollywood. Writing the screenplay was Rocky’s boxing match with Apollo; his opportunity in the spotlight to take advantage of. It was his to lose and in the end he prevails by going the distance with Creed and by winning at the Oscars.

What I’m saying is, Sylvester Stallone is not a good actor. This is just fact. But in the original Rocky, he wasn’t acting, he was being Sly.

It’s these same parallels that I think exist in “Rocky Balboa”. Think about it. It’s not just Rocky that’s 60 and in the twilight of his career, it’s Sly too. It’s not just Rocky looking to validate a life and career with another go in the squared-circle, it’s Sly. For the first time since the original movie came out, Rocky is once again a metaphor for Sly Stallone himself. As such, It’s my hope that we’re all in for a pleasant surprise on December 22nd. I’ll be there cheering for Rock…not even a Tommy Gunn could keep me away.

Word!

Mediaboy

For more Trailer Trash, check out these other fine postings:
"Babel"
"Casino Royle"
"Man of the Year"
"The Last King of Scotland"
"Farce of the Penguins"
"Transformers:The Movie"
"Ghost Rider"
"Bobby"
"Deja Vu"
"Go to the Movies, Leave After the Trailers"
"A Good Year, A Bad Movie"
"Get to Know, the Unknown"

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Unlike traditional movie reviews, the postings to Trailer Trash are written prior to the films release and are based only on the trailers and available information.


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Posted by on November 17, 2006 02:05 PM
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