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Movie Review: Rocky (1976)

They should make a Rocky VI with Pirate Ninjas
Rocky (1976)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

Directed by: John G. Avildsen

This was on Movie Central HD recently, and since I've never seen it as a critically-minded adult, I figured it was time to check it out and find out if it's as good as my memory thinks it is. It did win the Best Picture Oscar, and is a venerated part of cinematic history, so I figured it was worth the watch.

Now that I've seen it again, I gotta wonder how in the blue hell did this movie beat Taxi Driver, All the President's Men, Network, and Bound for Glory, or most other films released that year. True, I haven't seen any of those movies, but I'm sure they're better than this cheeseball flick.

To begin, the movie is dull for the most part. It follows around Balboa through his plainly ordinary life with plainly ordinary shots, and painfully bad dialogue. The acting ain't much better either. Every character in the movie is a caricature, and none of the actors do anything to raise them above that status. Sylvester Stallone's Rocky is the mindless thug with a heart of gold. Despite the fact that he part times as hired muscle for a loan shark, he practically walks around with a halo and choir throughout the rough streets of Philly. Adrian (Talia Shire) is a mousey shut-in, pure and chaste, who does nothing to show why Rocky would be so into her. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is a cocky, disinterested imitation of Muhammed Ali, Burgess Meredith's Mickey is practically a cartoon character, and there is no scene that Burt Young can't ruin with his ham-handed, oafish, stereotypical portrayal of Adrian's brother Paulie.

The movie tries hard, reeeeeally hard to get us to care about the underdog Rocky and his lady-love Adrian. They're made for each other, you know? Nevermind that their first kiss gives off creepy date rape vibes, they're sweet, especially since she seems mildly retarded. That this film has achieved full-on Spike TV guy movie status is kinda baffling, giving how slow and sentimental it is. You figure that it must be the boxing scenes that redeem it and stand out in the collective guy mind, but then the climactic boxing match between the Italian Stallion and Apollo Creed begins, and you realise that it kinda blows.

First off, there are waaaaaaaay too many punches thrown for the early rounds of a heavyweight fight. These things are dances, not slugfests. But, hey, that's okay since this is the action sequence, bring on the violence! Except... that after the brief flurry at the beginning, the movie just skips through most of the fight, a few seconds of round eight, a spit-take from round 11, then the obligatory cut scene to begin round 14 (where the cutman cuts Rocky, not a scene that didn't make the movie). It's ridiculous really, since all of Apollo's pre-fight hype involved him knocking out Rocky in three rounds, and then they skip past the third round. WHO IN THE HELL SETS UP A MOVIE LIKE THAT? And, better yet, who in the hell awards such a movie Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing? Man, Oscars are for shit.

But, the entire movie wasn't a loss for me. Eventually, the big thug won me over (or wore me down), and I looked past how one dimensional he was. I've always been a big fan of his monologue scene before the big fight, where he admits to Adrian that he's nothing more than a bum, but if he could just go the distance with Creed, not beat him, but go the distance, than maybe he'd be something more than a bum. It's still a great scene (albeit cheapened by the sequels where the unpolished fighter beats a better prepared Creed and goes on to be unstoppable). And, when Rocky was training, pounding the beef, drinking the raw eggs, and running the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I got chills. He's Gonna Fly Now, dammit!

But, all in all, not a good movie. I'll give some of the weaker visual sequences a bit of a pass, since it was made for only about $1.1 million dollars, which also explains why some of the performances aren't up to snuff, since they didn't have that many takes (my favourite scene, the aforementioned monologue, was done in one take). But the budget doesn't account for the overall cheesiness of the flick, or the film's treatment of the final climactic battle as an afterthought.

2/5

Tags: best_director, best_picture, movies, sylvester_stallone
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