Rocky Balboa (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE 60-year-old former heavyweight boxer Rocky takes on the reigning undefeated heavyweight champion in a live television exhibition bout in Las Vegas.


To be honest I approached this film with a deep sense of foreboding - if not dread.

On paper the scenario does not sound appealing - particularly if like me you have an aversion to sports films which by their very nature are little more than wish-fulfilment fantasies.

In Rocky Balboa you have a 60-year-old former heavyweight boxer (Rocky) taking on the reigning undefeated heavyweight champion (Mason "The Line" Dixon) in a live television exhibition bout in Las Vegas.

It sounds awful and unrealistic until you see the film and realise that is not really what the movie is about.

The boxing only takes up about 20 minutes of the movie and even then Stallone, who wrote and also directed the movie, knows that he has to make it believable for an audience to engage in the film.

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The real story is about what happens to a famous sportsman when the fame goes, everyone has heard the stories and he's just another old man.

Well in Rocky's case he opens up a restaurant, spends his days buying meat and vegetables at the local market, peering at the prices through unflattering glasses and mourning the loss of his beloved wife Adrian (played in flashback by Talia Shire).

Her death has left a huge hole in his life. At the restaurant he is just going through the motions, playing the genial host but there is something missing in his life.

He tells his friend Paulie (Burt Young) during his anniversary tour of the haunts of his life with Adrian that a fire still burns within him. "I still have a lot of stuff in the basement," he says.

He wants to get back into the ring - wants to make something of a small scale comeback just to re-establish himself, to give him back a sense of his own identity. The straight-talking Paulie tells him in no uncertain terms that he is crazy and that he will get beaten to a pulp - which is exactly what we the audience think, but Rocky is determined to fix everything that is wrong with his life.

His son, who is struggling to step outside his father's shadow and make a name for himself as a stockbroker, is against the idea thinking the whole affair will end in disaster but Rocky is determined to move on with his life.

He also bumps into Maire (Geraldine Hughes) a young girl he last saw (in the original Rocky) when he escorted her home and received a mouthful of abuse for his trouble. She is now a single mum working in a bar and the pair strike up a tentative friendship.

It seems that he is now is starting to find female friendship again for the first time since the death of Adrian.

It's a story of how a man can reclaim himself from the mire of celebrity and then public indifference. This is time he is fighting to prove something for himself.

Stallone proves himself an able director using a host clever visual tricks not only to evoke a sense of nostalgia but also keep the story moving along at a brisk pace - but he doesn't overdo the visual trickery, the slow motion and colour desaturation but gives the film a sense of character.

Stallone slips back seamlessly into the role of the Philadelphia underdog and comes up with a film that is touching without being maudlin. It makes you think about some our current sporting heroes when they get towards retirement age. Is David Beckham really going to be an actor or a chat show host? I don't think so. He could be just as at sea as Rocky Balboa.

A surprisingly uplifting tale.