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Rocky Balboa

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary by Sylvester Stallone; Skills Vs Will: The Making of Rocky Balboa; Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky’s Final Fight; Boxing Bloopers; Deleted Scenes; Alternative Ending.

THE odds are stacked against him. Age, for one thing. Credibility for another.

But just as Sylvester Stallone triumphed with his underdog tale, Rocky way back in 1976 (upsetting All The President’s Men in the process), so round six, Rocky Balboa, upsets the odds yet again in 2007.

It’s little wonder that many American critics hailed it to be the finest Rocky movie since the original for – in spite of its obvious frailties – Stallone’s boxing swansong is a knockout experience. And not just in the ring.

Rocky Balboa punches at the heart-strings as well, delivering the kind of nostalgic, reflective piece that could just as easily serve as a metaphor for the actor’s life and career as well. It’s difficult not to be moved.

The story – written by Stallone as well as directed – finds the long retired boxing hero spending his days grieving for his late wife, Adrian, and running a restaurant in Philadelphia where he regails clients with triumphant stories of his past.

But Balboa is given an unlikely opportunity to enter the ring one last time when a computer simulation suggests that Rocky in his prime could beat reigning world champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), a technically brilliant but unpopular modern fighter.

With his pride dented, Dixon offers Rocky the chance of an exhibition bout and the Italian Stallion duly accepts.

Fans expecting to be left punch-drunk by Rocky’s on-screen antics may be disappointed by the lack of boxing action – there’s only one fight and only one decent training montage.

But given the age of its protagonist it would have been foolish to expect anything else. This is about life more than boxing and triumphing against the thundering blows.

The first three quarters of the film follows the people’s champion as he attempts to deal with the cards life has dealt him.

His restaurant may offer him the chance to relive former glories but his body language speaks differently.

Rocky is angry, even wounded, prowling his past like a caged lion. He feels lost without Adrian and estranged from his son (Milo Ventimigllia), who works in the city trying to emerge from the shadow of his father’s reputation.

Some hope is offered by the prospect of a new romance with divorcee barwoman Marie (Geraldine Hughes) but even his bitter brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) has begun to tire of Rocky’s constant reminiscing.

Yet as unashamedly sentimental as such plot devices are, you can’t help but root for the guy or identify with much of what he has to say.

When Dixon’s offer sparks an instinct inside the fighter that had never quite extinguished, Stallone channels the character’s grief and anger into a battering ram of frightening ferocity.

And it’s the moment that viewers’ patience is rewarded and the movie really kicks into high gear.

It’s when that famous Rocky theme returns for the first time and our hero rolls back the years – first with a nicely executed montage (complete with running up the steps) and then with a blistering boxing sequence that’s sure to bring the house down.

Rocky Balboa is far from a perfect movie. The sentiment runs a little too high at times, while the concept is just plain cheesy.

Yet Stallone’s concluding chapter never seeks to punch above its weight and feels like a fitting way to bow out.

It’s a nice reminder of one of cinema’s great characters and an even more timely display of one of its most under-rated actors. For when he puts his mind to it, Stallone really can act with the best of them and it’s a shame that he hasn’t seized the opportunity to do so more regularly.

A moment of brutal honesty between Rocky and his son is not only insightfully written but also disarmingly poignant, as is another between Rocky and Paulie.

Such moments, coupled with those boxing scenes, ensure that Rocky Balboa emerges as a personal triumph for Stallone that fans of the franchise won’t want to miss out on seeing.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 102mins