Rocky Balboa

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By Mark Ramsey | 2006/12/19

Rocky’s career was dead, to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

After 60-odd years, some odder than others, Sly Stallone returns to the screen in the role that made him famous. Because franchise-happy Hollywood keeps fame-making roles alive the same way they keep herpes alive: By screwing the audience.

“I still have the ‘eye of the tiger,’” says Sly. “Unfortunately, the tiger now has glaucoma.”

“You will be visited by three spirits” warned the Ghost of Box Office Past. “The first when the clock strikes 1976, the second when Rambo makes headbands and shirts mutually exclusive, and the third when you perform a Rocky sequel from inside a mason jar filled with formaldehyde.”

“Bah, humbug!” said Sly Stallone, “all I’m being offered are dying grandfather roles – and unnaturally muscular dying grandfathers at that. Rocky Balboa, how you doin’!”

Indeed, Sly’s physique owes much to science. “That’s not a six-pack” he said, pointing to his stomach, “it’s six Energizer D-Cells. And they’re rechargeable – just like my Starbucks card.”

Yes, Sly looks suspiciously looks like he’s being impersonated by a wax imitation of himself. “I have the hair of a younger man and the face of a younger woman,” he says. “No wonder I’m Lainie Kazan’s stunt double!”

So forget whether or not the world needs another Rocky movie. Is AARP Balboa “gonna fly now?”

“Even I didn’t like this movie,” said critic Rex Reed, and Rex raves when dust is projected on a silver screen. “It’s the feel-good dust of the year! You’ll stand up and wheeze!”

I get it that Sly would like to send off Rocky with a little dignity, but what about his dignity – and yours and mine?

“This is who you are – it’s who you’ll always be,” the object of Rocky’s newfound affection tells him.

“Yo, whatdyou mean?” asks Rocky.

“I dunno,” she replies. “I’m reciting fortune cookies as fast as I can.”

And then, in predictable fashion, it’s time for the training sequence. Crank up the Rocky theme and watch our boy run through Philly streets and pound some meat. “At my age, it’s more like gently patting meat on the back,” said Sly.

The big fight, billed as the “Adventcha in Dementia” takes a predictable trajectory, with Rocky surprising everyone except anyone not in the movie.

From between the cracks in the Screen Actors Guild membership criteria comes surviving Rocky vet Burt Young. And Burt’s performance is so lifelike you almost can’t see the strings suspending his withered limbs. Burt looks like he’s been taking a twelve step program – backwards.

Rocky’s wife Adrian is long dead, and now Rocky is a restaurateur. Because when someone can pound your face in, it’s likely that they cook a tasty sauce. At his restaurant, “Adrian’s,” Rocky regales diners with anecdotes of ancient boxing history while they desperately try to digest something – anything. Over there’s a black velvet painting of Burgess Meredith with his hand covering his eyes.

And why does Rocky emerge from retirement? Because of a CG matchup with a contemporary fighter on ESPN. It’s the stuff of fairy tales and nightmares and you can guess which way the pendulum swings faster than I can say “Clubber Lang.”

ESPN’s cartoon recreation features an animated Stallone fighting an animated Mason Dixon. “From there,” says Sly, “it’s on to Foghorn Leghorn!”

Said fight commentator Scooby Doo: “MGM rould rhave retter ruck rith a re-rerease of Ringing in the Rain.”

Thanks to a cheesesteak-and-soft-pretzel-sized budget, most of Rocky Balboa features Stallone on familiar battered streets and in flashback. If this movie had any more flashbacks I could have already seen it.

In his infinite wisdom, Sly casts gossip-hound extraordinaire A.J. Benza who is visibly flexing his acting muscle, flaccid though it may be.

Are there no prisons!? Are there no workhouses!?

Speaking for the millions of moviegoers who would rather debate the wave or particle nature of projection light than sit through a 60-year-old man’s return to the boxing ring, I have these words of warning:

Here comes the Rambo sequel.

“Am I in the presence of the Ghost of Stallone Franchise Chapters Yet to Come?” asked Sly?

The specter nodded.

“My personal assistant has stolen my bed linens, and she sold them on eBay! Worse, she has built an igloo out of thousands of cutout DVD’s of F.I.S.T.!”

The spirit could only roll the holes in his invisible head which substituted for eyes.

“I’ll say this about Sylvester Stallone,” the spirit said. “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep the Rocky franchise well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Hollywood’s relentless propensity for pointless and pathetic sequels, Every One!

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