Its thirty years since Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) first broke into the ring, and he’s hitting 60. His beloved wife Adrian has died and he visits the cemetery regularly. In fact, he keeps a folding chair stashed in the branches of the large tree nearby. He misses her very much even though he leads a busy life as a restaurateur in South Philly. His fans remain loyal. He and his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young; The Sopranos; Mickey Blue Eyes) continue their friendship.
Meanwhile his son, Rocky, Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia; Heroes), works in an office. He bears his father’s fame as a burden; he is embarrassed by his dad. Even his boss, who reprimands him for something, lets it slide when Rocky, Sr. arrives to see his son. Father and son are not close, a situation Rocky would like to change.
On the boxing scene, sportscasters begin to wonder what would happen if Rocky would come out of retirement and face some of the new talent, specifically Mason “the Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver). They convince Rocky to face Dixon in a demonstration match to benefit a charity. He begins to train, while befriending a single mother and her son, who seems to be straying into trouble because he lacks a male mentor.
When I was invited to a screening of Rocky Balboa last October with some leaders of various Christian faith communities, even knowing that Sly was going to be present after for questions, I must admit that my expectations were not too high.
But what a very nice surprise the film – and Stallone – turned out to be.
Written and directed by Stallone (as were all the Rocky’s except V that was directed by John G. Avildsen), Rocky Balboa is about a mature and seasoned Rocky – and Stallone - three decades down the road. The plot is not overly complex and it is predictable. But watching it is like spending a comfortable Sunday afternoon with an old friend and catching up. The dialogue is dotted with gentle humor, and Rocky’s wisdom is accessible and available, not preached.
When Stallone spoke to us after the screening he was articulate, warm, serene, and energized. He was very open about the stabilizing influence of his wife and family, what he has learned from his early life, and how he wants to make a difference. He also spoke about reading and how much good he has found in books since he began taking the time to read.
Truth to tell, I cannot stand boxing. I don’t get it even though all kinds of people – mostly guys and one female boxer – have tried to explain to me the discipline and the strength it requires back when Cinderella Man (an exceptional film) came out. Rocky Balboa has only one boxing sequence, so for parents who are squeamish about letting their kids see boxing, it’s not too bad.
I am not sure how many young people will want to see an aging baby-boomer climb into the ring to face a much younger, powerful fighter played by a realtive newcomer, Tarver. Milo Ventimiglia's fame is steadily increasing due to his role on the hit and hip television show Heroes - one of my favorites - and before that on Gilmore Girls), so he is a draw for the younger crowd. But I think the boomer generation – like me – will enjoy the film very much.
Certainly, courage, integrity, faith, and going the distance are values for all time. This is also a film about grief, loss, and living the life that we have to the full. If you are a fan of Rocky’s, you won't want to miss Rocky Balboa.
(By the way, Rambo is coming back in 2008 in Rambo IV: Pearl of the Cobra, breaking in a new hero to take John Rambo's place.)