After the fist pumping, USA chanting, cartoony foolishness of his fourth outing, the powers that be decided that maybe it was time to reign Rocky in. On paper it seemed like a truly wise decision as Rocky IV, while a magnificent cheese-fest of 80’s Americana, was admittedly a bit fucking silly with Ralboa simultaneously avenging the death of his friend while single-handedly ending the Cold War with a succession of right-crosses on the jaw of a hapless Dolph Lundgren. As impressive multi-tasking as it is (especially from a man who is barely literate), a marked return to the series roots was in order to keep the story in line with where it all started and so John G. Avildsen, the director of the original movie, was brought back into the fold to provide a fifth installment hopefully free of robot butlers and endless music video montages. Well, after Rocky V hit the screens, it promptly hit the canvas because despite all the efforts to inject some grit back into the franchise the movie turned out to be the most stupid and laughable entry by a long, long margin.
Immediately after winning over the Russian people by making a mockery of their sporting programme, Rocky finds that the jackhammer blows of his giant opponent has caused some serious damage inside the old brain pan and quickly discovers that after years of taking all those beatings without having the common sense to duck has finally caught up with him. However, being banned from boxing is the least of his worries as “loveable” scumbag Uncle Paulie has managed to bankrupt the family thanks to some impressively bad decisions and so Rocky loses everything and has to move his long suffering wife and whiny son back to his old neighbourhood in Philadelphia while trying to etch out a living.
Meanwhile, unscrupulous boxing promoter George Washington Duke – a man who seems to have merged with his outlandishly large fur coat as a form of symbiosis – is desperately throwing dollar signs at Balboa in order to get him back into the ring but Rocky has another idea in mind and reopens Mickey’s gym with the plan to become a trainer himself and soon enough he gets himself a protege. That protege is the questionably monikered Tommy Gunn, a walking, talking sentient mullet with a knockout blow to die for whom Rocky takes under his wing much to the chagrin of his own pouting child, but soon enough Duke gets his mitts on him, gets him a title shot and poisons his mind against the former Italian Stallion. However, wrapping Gunn up in a title belt – not to mention some of the most grotesque tracksuits known to man – is all a ploy to get Rocky back in the ring despite the fact that a match could be a little on the fatal side but despite the advice of his loving wife, Balboa can only be pushed so far. But regardless on where this fight takes place, be it legally in a glittering ring in Las Vegas or a dirty street fight on the filthy streets of Philadelphia, one thing’s for sure; if Rocky isn’t careful he’ll participate in a box alright, a fucking pine one.
There are so many things wrong with Rocky V that I’m genuinely flummoxed as to where to start but a strongly believe the main problem is that everyone involved seems to have forgotten how to make a Rocky movie despite all having massive amounts of practice. Firstly, despite the climactic street fight (which I’ll get to later), it’s baffling why the filmmakers would think we’d want to watch a boxing movie where the main character – who is famous for being a boxer – doesn’t actually do any boxing. Making the switch from full-on sports movie to down-and-out family drama doesn’t do the franchise any favours and ultimately is like watching a version of Rambo III where the main character never leaves the Buddhist monastery. While it’s since been proven that you CAN make a Rocky movie where all he does is train another fighter (Eyan Coogler’s magnificent Creed) what Stallone’s script fails to realise is that you can’t do all that and still make Balboa a fist flinging hero in the final act without making everything that comes before it an utter farce.
Speaking of farce, for a film that’s trying to tell a more serious story it’s rather odd how the movies villains seen to have wandered in from a boxing themed panto. Duke is such a shameless parody of a certain, notorious real life boxing promoter they might as well named him “Kon Ding” and be done with it where on the other hand the bland Tommy Gunn proves that you can train an actor to box but it’s tougher to train a boxer to act.
Similarly, the agonising pandering to 90’s kids through the fruit of Rocky’s loins (portrayed by Stallone’s own son Sage) proves why that particular decade sucked so bad with inescapably vile fashion choices virtually littering every frame.
And then there’s the closing street fight… a climactic battle so excruciatingly bad and so morally confusing I honestly believe I could write a whole review solely based on this wretched slug-fest. Set to a Rocky-esque theme that’s been combined with a hip-hop beat to create a conjoined twin comprised of pure sonic hate, Rocky and Tommy beat each others brains in while a braying crowd comprised of friends and loved ones cheer them while being filmed in a jerky frame-rate that gives them the horrific appearance of being demonically possessed. While the first half of the fight takes place in an alleyway set so bad, I was expecting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to pop up and complain about the noise, the second half even has the audacity to throw in the cheap shot of Rocky having visions of his old dead trainer Mickey screaming at him to get up – something that ISN’T worryingly attributed to Rocky’s established brain damage. Adding to the rather confusing tone is that when the flight’s over, Rocky simply goes home – apparently satisfied despite the fact he’s violated the promise to his wife and son that he’ll never fight again just so he can get the respect from the 37 people who are so shitty, not a single one of them even thought to call the police.
Pointless, crass and stunningly boring, the more down-to-earth concepts Rocky V was attempting were eventually realised far more successfully in both the sixth installment and the spinoff Creed but possibly the most interesting aspect of this god awful sequel was it’s prediction of Stallone himself hitting similar hard times; a fact that makes the fusion of Rocky’s fantasy and the actor’s reality all the more fascinating.
But when all is said and done, Rocky V ends up easily being the least of the beloved franchise and far from being the champ, is merely nothing more than a no good bum…
One that desperately needs to wiped.