Friday, December 22, 2006

Get a Root Canal, Or Experience “Rocky Balboa” in Philadelphia?

I didn’t grow up in Philly, therefore Rocky is not one of my “experiences” in life. It doesn’t talk to me, or make me proud, the way it does to all of my friends and family that grew up here. When I went last night with two Rocky FANS, one in film, the other a hulking wrestler, I knew I was in for it during the car ride when the two began debating the merit of Rocky V.

When we arrived, it wasn’t too difficult to notice the audience was made up of almost entirely men – men that had grown up with this underdog character that probably not only describes who they are, but describes the very city in which they live. To them, Rocky isn’t just some untouchable character on screen, he’s a friend, a hero, a role model and a source of hope for a town that doesn’t (in the sports arena anyway) have much to hope for these days (yes, after living here for 8 years, I wholeheartedly believe there is a jinx on this town).

Before going in, I was worried the movie (I will not call it a film) would be as bad as having teeth pulled. While, in the end, the movie didn’t provide me with what I really wanted it to, it was better that I had expected.

The movie opens by explaining to us how desperate Rocky has become. He’s lost his wife to cancer, and his son, now grown up, is tired of living in his dad’s shadow. Rocky has opened a restaurant and earns his living by using his local fame to bring in customers, and spends his time reliving stories of his glory days to customers that probably aren’t coming in for the food.

Increasingly desperate to rid himself of pain from the loss of his wife, and to do something that will fill a void, or even possibly prove to himself that he’s still alive, Rocky applies for his boxing license. After a scene in which Rocky gives a speech about his freedom and that “piece of paper down the street”, his license is approved.

His first fight in years finds him after ESPN runs a simulation to see who would win: Rocky in his prime or a young heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon. Dixon’s managers talk convince him to take the fight, since no other fighters are interested in fighting Dixon and he’s taking in very little revenue. Both Dixon and Balboa accept and head to Las Vegas, where hopefully, Rocky will fight his last bout.

Much of the movie was weak, seeming as though Sylvester Stallone had some ideas that worked well on paper, but could not be properly executed for the screen under his direction. The dialogue was typical Rocky, which even elicited some hearty laughs from this non-Rocky fan.

One of the worst storylines in the movie comes when Rocky and a new friend adopt a dog appropriately named “Punchy.” An old, ugly, mangled beast, Stallone uses Punchy as a metaphor for Rocky – attempting to explain the premise of the movie through the pooch.

Punchy even somehow makes in into one of the most important scenes – Rocky running to the top of the Art Museum steps. Not exactly a fitting way for Rocky to make his last run.

The end left me extremely discontent, desiring something much more than Stallone delivered. To me, the best part of the movie was quite possibly the exterior shots of Philadelphia – which was portrayed rather accurately. The bar scenes were actually filmed at a local bar that I personally frequent.

The audience, all Philly boys, seemed to enjoy it. There was a smattering of applause at the end, and no one left during the credits, which consisted of locals mimicking the Rocky run up the steps of the Art Museum. More than for anything else, I believe the audience stayed to see if there was anyone they knew in the credits.

If you’re a Rocky lover – you’re either going to love it or hate it, but either way – you’ll probably want to go see it. For non-Rocky fans: if there isn’t anything better you wish to see, “Rocky Balboa” might help fill an hour and a half with some laughs.