Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rocky V

Now it is time to cover what many consider the darkest chapter of the Rocky films, and that is 1990’s Rocky V (trailer). It seems no matter who I talk to they consider this the only bad installment of the six Rocky movies. That is saying something because Stallone passed on directing this one after directing the last three films himself as Rocky V reunites Stallone with the man who won a Best Director Academy Award for the first film, John G. Avildsen. So join me while I try and figure out what made everyone despise this film so much.

Even though it was released five years after the previous film, it picks up immediately after Rocky IV. The film opens like the last three films with a highlight reel of the final fight of the previous film, which was an intense 15 round slugfest between Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lungdren). Rocky V then cuts to the locker room right after the fight where Adrian (Talia Shire) is consoling Rocky, who is having complications after all the fierce blows he absorbed from Drago. Doctors tell Balboa he has suffered permanent brain damage from the fight and as a result the athletic commission must force Rocky to retire. To make matters worse, longtime friend/goofball Paulie (Burt Young) was conned by the family accountant into signing away all of the Balboa’s money and now the Balboa’s are broke and must move to a modest home back in the old Philadelphia neighborhood where Rocky started off in the first film.

While trying to get his bearings as a trainer at Mick’s old gym, Rocky is confronted by one Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). Tommy just turned pro and is hell bent on proving himself to Rocky to take him under his wing as his manager. Rocky does just that, and instantly forms a father/son bond with Tommy to the dismay of Rocky Jr., who is played by Sly’s own son, the late Sage Stallone. The antagonist for this film is evil promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), who the film does not make any effort to hide is their version of Don King, a fast talking, wise cracking promoter who will resort to anything to put on a big fight, and who Rocky classifies as the dark side of the boxing business.

While Rocky V gets a lot of flak, I will give some props to Avildsen and Stallone for making it a serious sports drama again, and dialing back the off-the-rails campy nature of Rocky III and IV. It was nice to see MGM shooting for a return to form and try to tell a serious story again. I loved that Rocky and Adrian started wearing their vintage attire from the 70s again, and that the couple embraced their Philadelphia roots and that Rocky stopped wearing the corporate suits and amped up that lovable Italian accent again that he mastered in the first two films.

Now for why this film earns the reputation it has. I have a question, since Rocky V takes place immediately after the last film, how did Rocky Jr. magically double his age into a 13 year old? When we last saw Jr. in IV, he looked around 7. Obvious timeline flaw aside, I did not care too much for Jr.’s side story throughout the film with him standing up to bullies at school. I guess the film needed to give him something to do, but they already had a good plot going for him with losing affection for his dad when Rock Sr. turns all his attention to Tommy.

I do not have a problem with Tommy Morrison’s portrayal of Tommy Gunn, who perfectly nails the role of the hungry up-and-coming prospect. I do not mind that the film gets a little too predictable, and that you see Tommy turning on Rocky coming from a mile away as his early success with Rocky goes to his head as he joins forces with Duke so he can get a world title fight. I do not like how the film has the press absolutely trash Tommy in the press conference right after his world title victory proclaiming him as a paper champion right after he wins the title. This causes Tommy to flip out and Duke convinces Tommy to challenge Rocky to a match to prove himself to all the doubters.

I guess this maniacal villain turn for Tommy seemed too sudden for me, and that maybe he needed more time as a champion in the movie getting a track record defending against unproven contenders and then have the press dump on him instead of immediately after the biggest victory in his career. This leads to the final big fight scene for the film, problem is you cannot have a big time, in-ring fight since Rocky’s health forced him into retirement and he promised a pleading Adrian he would not put on the gloves again. So the film compromises by having Tommy call Rocky out at a local tavern. Tommy’s fight proposal gets turned down and Tommy gets too hot headed and punches out Paulie which leads to Rocky and Tommy instantly having a big ‘ol parking lot brawl to close out the film.

What Stallone and Avildsen did made sense by trying to deliver a big time fight within the proper storyline parameters that Balboa is capable of as I described in the preceding paragraph. They tried to go as all out as they can with a pretty lengthy back and forth brawl in the parking lot to give the feeling of an epic final showdown. It was a fine fight scene, but the problem is that it just does not compensate for the traditional main event, in-ring fight that happened at the end of the previous four films. That was always what the previous films built up to, and that was settling the score in the ring with all the glitz and glamour of a big time TV fight. I will again give MGM credit for them trying to make it work, and I think on paper the plot sounded like a good compromise, but in execution it felt like a cheapened replacement effort that ultimately did not sit well with me. I can only imagine how audiences in the theater must have felt when they realized they were not getting the traditional, final in-ring encounter.

I would have loved to have seen a behind-the-scenes feature or a commentary with Stallone and Avildsen trying to explain what did and did not work for them and how they handled the public reaction to this film. Unfortunately, like the previous three films, the BluRay edition of Rocky V in the Rocky Heavyweight Collection box set does not have any extra features whatsoever. While I would not go so far to say it is unwatchable, Rocky V definitely ranks at the bottom of the six films for me. There are still a lot of good aspects to this film, and I appreciate the core story it told and how it was a return to form as a serious sports drama for the franchise. It is just too bad the film loses itself in the final act.

Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky IV
Rocky III
Rocky II

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