I've officially seen three of the Rocky movies: Rocky, Rocky IV, and now Rocky Balboa. I think everyone probably rightfully thought the same thing when we heard of Stallone's plans for a sixth Rocky film. I know my eyes couldn't stop rolling for weeks. However, he seems to have acknowledged all of those notions that would have caused us to doubt.
The first and most obvious of those being the question of both the actor's, and the characters age. How was this addressed? Well, this isn't a story about the greatest fight of his career, but a story about the last fight of his career. It deals with being a has-been but still having a few tricks he can teach to the new kid on the block. The other big issue is Stallone's acting itself. Can the man act? No, not really, but he can play Rocky Balboa and be as convincing as he needs to be so that the audience doesn't realize that this is in-fact a washed-up actor. And I suppose that's why this ended up being a smart move for Stallone. Had he tried to do Cliffhanger 2, our eye rolling would have been justified (We may have to hold that thought for Rambo 4 though).
It's got some sappy moments, it's got some inspirational moments and even some exciting moments. Whats good about it is that it doesn't seem to try to copy verbatim the formula of the other Rocky films I've seen. Sure, it makes it's homages, but tastefully and not to the point where they carry the story.
The best aspect of the character development of the film is Rocky befriending a down-on-herself young woman and her son. Had there been no fighting in the movie what-so-ever, this story could have been expanded into it's own film by itself. The only awkward or confusing thing was the current heavy-weight champ Mason Dixon. We're never really sure if he's supposed to be a cocky asshole, or just a good guy surrounded by the wrong people. In one scene he talks about how he'd rather be respected as a fighter than be the champ, and in a later scene he's asshole trash-talking Rocky. In the end though, he finally learns a lesson and that's the real point of the character.
All in all, this is a film about doing whatever it is you do without bitching about the obstacles in your way. In fact, Rocky makes a speech to his son saying pretty much just that. The story is full of those and other speeches, but they always seem natural, unpreachy and warranted. The best perhaps comes from Rocky's trainer (forgive me die-hard Rocky fans for not knowing the character's name). He tells rocky that he's not fast on his feet, and his reflexes are shot, so he's going to have to win the fight with "blunt-force-trauma", and it's time to start building some "hurtin' bombs".
As tempting as it is to laugh at so-called has-beens, you've got to give respect to actors like Sylvester Stallone, Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson that have managed to stay in the game just as well as they ever were (the later two more so). I say just as much with Stallone, because as I said, the man can't act, never really could, but he's still doing it and I'm still paying to watch, so that's something. Like the movie poster says, "I ain't over till it's over".
*** (3 out 4 stars).