It's been 17 years since Rocky last laced up his gloves, but you can't keep a good franchise down, and here he is again for a sixth and (hopefully) final instalment. We're all thinking the same thing here, right? "Sylvester, this is an incredibly stupid idea. An arthritic, sexagenarian boxer mixing it up with a modern heavyweight champ in Vegas? You're crazy." Still, if you can swallow that particular whopper, the rest of the film goes down easy.
Writing and directing again, Stallone has sensibly steered Rocky Balboa away from the excesses of the later sequels, and back to the low-key sweetness of his Oscar-winning original. Sadly, there's no Adrian for Rocky to yo at: apparently she popped her clogs after Rocky V. Who can blame her? Punch-drunk with grief, Rocky wanders through his life like a man half-asleep, reciting old boxing stories to the clients of his shabby Italian restaurant. He feels alienated from his son, but forms a platonic bond with a weary-eyed waitress. And so on. The film meanders along this path for a long, slow while, a primitive soap opera dressed up as street poetry. At least Stallone's performance is fun: he seems to create his own dopey world of beefcake chivalry, like Jimmy Stewart on steroids.
"A PRIMITIVE SOAP OPERA DRESSED UP AS STREET POETRY"
Anyway, the plot finally kicks in when some smart aleck creates a computer simulation that suggests Rocky could beat the reigning world champion. The gauntlet thus thrown down, Rocky does his familiar training routine - drinking raw eggs, chin-ups on his zimmer frame - while the rah-rah theme tune pounds away. The fight itself is shot in the style of a lavishly promoted TV exhibition match, degenerating slowly into an impressionistic mess of blood and gumshields. Stallone, we should admit, is not a bad director. Rocky, on the other hand, is a terrible boxer, but he just won't go down. This, finally, seems to be the masochistic moral behind the whole franchise: forget talent, it says. Forget youth and money and brains. None of those matter, as long as you can take a thrashing and come back for more. Men, eh?