Rocky V

When Rocky V came out in 1990, almost no one was interested except for Rocky fans. It had been five years since Rocky IV, and I think most people thought Rocky IV was the last one. But Sylvester Stallone wanted to finish off his series by going back home. And because of IV’s plain oddness, I guess we should’ve expected that Stallone would finish off the series. That meant the series would take a step backward, back to the roots of the first two movies. Stallone got John Avildsen to direct this fifth film, giving fans a hopeful outlook on what it could be. But there were three things holding this film back that Avildsen couldn’t stop.

First, Stallone’s son Sage scored the role of Rocky Jr. in the film. Of course, Sly himself said the kid Stallone went on the audition without his help and won the part with no help from papa Stallone. After watching Sage make this film the most unwatchable of them all, I’d disagree. If the part asked for whining and annoying Rocky Jr., then I’m wrong and he did a great job. But if the part asked for a solid child actor to support the film, then he did a horrible job. Whenever he and the elder Stallone have scenes together, the movie stops and seems to take forever to get through. It’s also humorous to note that at the end of Rocky IV, when Rocky dedicates his fight to his son, he’s maybe 8 years old. And when Rocky gets off the plane from Russia, he magically becomes 13 years of age. Odd how that happens. (Stallone has recently said that this part of the movie is just horrible in reflection.)

The second thing wrong with this film is papa Stallone’s portrayal of the character he created. In Rocky III, Rocky was all of a sudden a smart business man. A corporate Rocky if you will. In Rocky IV, he was back to being slightly punchy, but he was determined. But in Rocky V, Stallone’s portrayal is that of the dumbest human being alive with the worst accent imaginable. It was like he didn’t watch the first two films to see how to replay the character. In a specific scene where Rocky takes his new protege to see Father Carmine, he requests two things from the father. Instead of asking for things one and two, he asks for things one and B. It’s like he wanted to make Rocky so dumb that people would feel sorry for him. But all it did was make me hate the character that I loved so much.

The last thing really wrong about the movie is in Tommy “The Duke” Morrison’s character of Tommy Gunn. Morrison at the time was an up and coming boxer; the next great white hope. But he also had something else going for him. He was the grandnephew of John Wayne, hence the nickname. He was a legit heavyweight contender in a time when heavyweights were great in boxing. He was still an up and comer when chosen for the role as Tommy Gunn and this helped him get noticed. Morrison’s acting early on in the film is fine. But it’s when he has to change his happy go lucky outlook and show aggression and actually play a character when it just doesn’t work. The fight scenes are actually quite realistic because Morrison punches like a boxer should, but he has too much screen time acting and is Rocky’s worst foil out of all the five movies. You don’t really hate him and he’s overshadowed by George Washington Duke played by Richard Grant. Duke is the real heel of the movie as he plays a Don King-like promoter who doesn’t care that Rocky’s retired, or that he has shown some signs of brain damage, and only wants to get him in the ring to fight again because it’d be the biggest money fight in boxing. Grant plays Don King pretty much to the tee, but it’s the first time a boxing promoter has been portrayed in a Rocky film and it’s awkward. We’re used to Rocky’s biggest opponent being someone he has to topple in the ring, and in this one, it’s an evil promoter.

There are a few good things about the film. It’s very much reminiscent of the first two films. Most of it is shot in the same areas. Though in mostly small roles, Burgess Meredith (whose Mickey dies in Rocky III but shows up in flashback), Talia Shire, and Burt Young all continue their roles, but just in a lesser fashion. They all shine in a movie that’s not hard to considering what they were put up against. Meredith had aged some 8 years since we saw him last and he looked eerily thin. But he still delivers the gravelly voiced Mick like only he can. Shire and Young both seem bored with the roles, and after Shire’s horrendous over the top overprotective role in the fourth film, she redeems herself here. As I said already, the fight scenes are well put together and excellently choreographed. Since Rocky’s big fight scene isn’t in the ring, the street fight element works. Pro wrestler Terry Funk was brought in to choreograph those scenes.

It’s a little hard for the hardcore fans to get into it because there’s so much inconsistency to the story. In the flashbacks with Mickey, Rocky and Mick talk about slippin’ the jab and fighting until the bell rings, and while it’s all regular boxing talk, they never mentioned either of those things in the other movies. Mick is also shown giving Rocky a cuff link on a gold chain as a token of his love for Rocky. Again, there weren’t any mentions in any of the films of this token that Rocky adores. They were simply created to give the Mickey character something to do.

Maybe the one thing that’s done most right is the fact that Rocky comes out with possible brain damage. By fighting Drago in Rocky IV, he was subjected to taking punches from someone so much bigger than him, and the effects were disastrous. It’s a small point of continuity that I’m glad they stuck to since they screwed up just about everything else. Though there’s still no mention of that bad eye from Rocky II.

They try to bring a lot of the humor missing from the previous two Rocky films, but except for one or two jokes, that fails as well. The one joke that does work is when Tommy Gunn finally turns on Rocky and challenges Rocky to a fight. Rocky says that his ring is outside and when some of his friends from the local tavern ask him if he needs any help, he says, “This ain’t no pie eating contest.” That’s the best you’re gonna get with this film.

Even though the continuity is bad, the jokes are bad, the new villain is bad, the thing that destroys the film most is the lack of chemistry between Stallone and his own son. You’d think that father and son could just be fatherly and sonly (?) together and everything would be great. But it’s like they’ve never talked to each other before. The scenes in which they are supposed to be close, it’s uncomfortable. In the scenes when they are arguing, it’s uncomfortable. And even in the end, in the last scene that closes out the film, it’s just horrible. Thankfully, my lasting memory of the Rocky series won’t be Sage and Sly exchanging the worst father and son dialogue in the history of film since there is a 6th and final film. Maybe that’s the best thing about this one. It was so bad, Sly had to do another.

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