Rocky V (1990)

I’m Not Gonna Knock You Down This Time.  I’m Gonna Put You Through the Street!

Over the past few days, I’ve watched a fantastic franchise crumble and fall over the course of four movies.  The first Rocky movie was fantastic, and the next movies just kept doing the same thing over and over again.  You get the feeling that Stallone was out of original ideas because he felt content to use the same formula with only the slightest changes to make more and more of these things until they eventually lost sight of what made them good in the first place.  For the fifth movie, Stallone seemed intent to recapture what had been lost by taking the character back home, bringing back the original director, and trying to get a fresh start.  Let’s see how that worked out for him in my review of Rocky V, written by Sylvester Stallone, directed by John G. Avildsen, and starring Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Talia Shire, Sage Stallone, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Richard Gant, Tony Burton, Deila Sheppard, and Michael Williams.

After his victory over Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has started noticing that something is wrong.  His hands are shaking and he’s unable to make them stop.  His wife, Adrian (Talia Shire), pleads with him to see a doctor, but he is reluctant.  He returns home to his son, Robert (Sage Stallone), and announces his intent to retire at a press conference.  The conference is interrupted by Don King clone George Washington Duke (Richard Gant) who tries to goad Rocky into fighting his fighter, Union Caine (Michael Williams).  Rocky wants to take the fight, but Adrian is against it.  They go to see a doctor who tells Rocky that he couldn’t get approved to fight anyway because of his extensive brain damage.  They also find that Paulie (Burt Young) caused them to sign over power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant, who promptly ruined Balboa financially.  The Balboa family sells most of their belongings and moves back to their old neighborhood.  Rocky reopens the boxing gym of his late trainer, Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith) and starts training boxers.  One such boxer is Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison), who proves to be a really good boxer, but perhaps an overly aggressive one.  Rocky takes Tommy in, becoming his manager and letting him sleep in the Balboa’s basement.  But Duke comes back into the picture, and will do whatever it takes to get Rocky to fight again.

Same old, same old, but worse.  Stallone tries to recapture the greatness of Rocky one by going back home, but it’s still just the same formula.  Again Rocky hits rock bottom and must mount a comeback.  At first, he does it vicariously through Tommy Gunn, but then makes a comeback himself that barely makes any sense.  Adrian doesn’t let Rocky fight Union Caine or Tommy Gunn in the ring, wearing gloves and with a referee watching, but Rocky decides it would work out best for everyone to get into a bare knuckle brawl with Gunn to wrap up the movie.  A bigger part of this movie is Rocky’s relationship with his family, but no real emotion is drawn from this well.  Rocky is more than happy to ignore his son and his son’s problems in his new school in favor of Tommy, but I guess you have to give him a pass on that because he’s supposedly beaten retarded in this movie.  Duke’s motivations are never really made that clear either.  I know he’s looking for a payday off of getting Rocky back into the ring, but I’m pretty sure the world would move on and you’d be able to make just as much money taking your fighter and making him prove himself against other good fighters.  But this guy is so persistent in trying to get a fighter that was retired for medical reasons back.  Rocky couldn’t even get sanctioned to fight if he wanted to!  Move the fuck on, man!  In trying to go back to his roots, Stallone only really showed us that he doesn’t actually have it in him anymore, just like Rocky.  Apparently, the initial idea for this movie was to have Rocky get killed in the street brawl with Tommy at the end of the movie, dying in Adrian’s arms in much the same way that Apollo died in Adrian’s arms.  This would have elevated the movie some, in my opinion, and made the course of the story feel better, but ultimately less satisfying.  We don’t want to see Rocky die like that, but we also don’t want him to go out in a movie like Rocky V.

The performances took a pretty big step down for this movie.  Sylvester Stallone actually did a good job, though.  Strangely, in order to show that his character was brain damaged, he went back to acting like he did in the first two movies.  One can only assume that he was touched by Jesus for the third movie, and then had that reversed when he was touched by a gigantic Russian in the fourth.  Talia Shire didn’t really make that big of an impact on me in this movie, and Burt Young went back to being an asshole.  The two newest additions hurt the movie the most.  First, Sage Stallone as Rocky’s son.  He just annoyed the piss out of me for the whole movie, and was never really able to convey any sort of emotion for the parts where he was supposed to.  He was just a twerpy little whiny shit that tried to turn into a bad boy when daddy was ignoring him.  Tommy Morrison was the worst decision Stallone made in these movies.  At some point (probably around Rocky III), Stallone decided that the ability to act was secondary to their ability to look like they were boxing.  And Morrison was required to do a lot of acting in this movie, like freaking out and being conflicted about having some loyalty to Rocky for his training, but also resenting being in his shadow the whole time.  Instead of being a conflicted character that we might actually care about, he just comes off as a giant douchebag and the rest of the movie is just wasting our time until someone kicked his ass.  And the fact that he sometimes talked like he had no idea what he was saying never really helps either.  I guess the boxing background does make him able to look pretty good in the fights, but if you want to recapture the glory of the first Rocky you need to realize that the audience has the ability to watch boxing whenever they want.  Movies should have actors in them.

Rocky V makes itself the worst movie in the Rocky franchise by following the same formula that every other Rocky has followed thus far, but not being nearly as satisfying as its predecessors.  It’s the obvious place for the character to go, and the obvious story to go along with it.  Stallone puts on a pretty good performance for the movie, but his son Sage and the new addition of Morrison drag it down too much to come back from.  This is probably the only Rocky movie that I would say is a complete waste of your time to watch.  Will Rocky Balboa be able to make a satisfying comeback in the final movie, or is it too far gone?  We’ll find out tomorrow.  For today, Rocky V gets “This ain’t no pie eating contest” out of “The man fought wars in the ring!”

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