Rocky Balboa is Sylvester Stallone’s surprise comeback film. Who would have thought it possible? After nearly a decade of unimpressive screen roles, from Driven to Spy Kids 3-D, and over 16 years since his last Rocky sequel, it looked like the old “Italian Stallion” was ready for the actor’s retirement home. But his return to the Rocky franchise is a career revitalizer. Stallone has written and directed a very personal and emotional, character-based story of a lonely retired boxer who is reflecting on his past. And with sparse fight training scenes and just one climatic bout, Stallone revives the magic of the simple character he created over 30 years ago.
Looking paunchy and leather-faced, Stallone reprises his original film’s tried and true formula with his messages of self-respect, honor and redemption. Now in his 60s, a widower and owner of a local neighborhood restaurant called Adrian’s, Rocky is in his twilight reminiscing with customers about his heyday glories. His brother-in-law Paulie, still played by the reliable Burt Young, helps him relive past memories, too. With Adrian gone, and his emotionally distant son attempting to be a yuppie businessman, Rocky needs something else in his life. He befriends a local single mom, offers her employment and becomes a surrogate father to her teen son. But when an ESPN computer-simulated fight matches Rocky with the present heavyweight boxing champ, an arrogant Mike Tyson-like fighter named Mason “the Line” Dixon, promoters tempt Rocky back in the ring for an exhibition bout that provides Balboa one last shot at life’s redemption.
Rocky Balboa is at times very nostalgic and sentimental and even quite predictable.
The training and championship bout seem plausible enough for a fairly fit actor of Stallone’s age in a sports fantasy like this. While some may find the film excessively maudlin as Rocky reminisces tender moments of his late wife’s early courtship with him, Stallone goes the distance to deliver a very entertaining film with heart.