A review of “Rocky Balboa” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG for intense fight sequences

Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

 

 

Call it “Rocky VI”. Call Sylvester Stallone a has-been. Hurl the laughter and insults with abandon but the fact of the matter is this seemingly impossible re-tread has all the right stuff.

          I’ll admit up front I was dreading “RB”, the last of a very long string of holiday-season screenings. Hasn’t the franchise been done to death? But writer/director Stallone plays his cards shrewdly here, acknowledging the passage of time by carving out a lonely widower who lives with the baggage of pain and regret and a dark swath of grief from the death of his beloved Adrian (Talia Shire).

          Rocky operates a thriving neighborhood Italian eatery, trading off his famous name and incessant boxing stories of yore. He has a strained relationship with grown-up Rocky, Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) who resents the inescapable limelight and dad’s faded but recognizable celebrity.

          Opportunity knocks when ESPN stages a computer-simulated fight between the Italian Stallion in his prime and current heavyweight champ Mason “the Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) and Rocky wins the bout. That’s all it takes to unleash the “stuff in the basement” as Rocky refers to the need that gnaws away inside.

          An exhibition fight is arranged and the scrappy Philly southpaw fights the good fight, setting aside a trenchant fear and making amends with his past and his future. And who doesn’t love those raw-egg training montages?

 “RB” could have been a feint but instead it’s a contender, subtly shaded with dignity and respect and good old-fashioned moxie. A burgeoning romance with neighborhood barkeep Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is a poignant counterpoint to the action. Ventimiglia is lifeless and the final frames a tad mawkish but no matter, I cried like a baby.