Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In Defense of Rocky V

Rocky V is widely regarded as the worst Rocky film, even worse than Rocky Balboa, which features a 60 year old Sly Stallone returning to the ring.  It may be the worst of the 6 films, but for me I still enjoy it.   The premise of Rocky managing an up and coming fighter from Oklahoma—or “Orlando”, as the Rock says—is a good one.  The concept of the Balboas losing all of their money due to Paulie giving away his power of attorney is a bit unrealistic, but it sets the stage for Rocky to return to the streets of Philly, where he cut his teeth in life.  It makes for a decent dynamic.  The film features the character George Washington Duke--an over the top caricature of Don King, who, though ridiculous, is entertaining.  And stars Tommy Morrison as Tommy “The Machine” Gunn, Rocky’s protégé.  
Some of the highlights
Rocky getting so involved in Tommy’s ascent to the top that he neglects his own son (played by Stallone’s real life son Sage) is a good cautionary tale.  Of course it's a false dichotomy, like there is no way to train a fighter and raise your own son at the same time?
The flashbacks to Mickey, like everything else in the film, are a bit overdone but still can fire you up: “If you ever get hurt and you feel that you're goin' down this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. It's gonna say, 'Get up you son of a bitch 'cause Mickey loves you'. Okay?”
The “Heart and Fire” montage.  While it loses points for using cheesy newspaper headlines to speed the plot point of the decaying relationship between Tommy and Rocky, e.g. “Rocky’s Robot”, watching Tommy Morrison tear up some bums interspersed with Rocky teaching him to punch by blowing bubbles is amazing cinema.
Rocky breaking out his street fighting moves from his loan sharking days.
Some of the lowlights
Rocky lives at the end.  Director John Avildsen, who directed the 1st film in the series (Best Picture 1976), has stated that Rocky was supposed to die at the end of the streetfight.  But the studio execs said, “Batman doesn’t die, why would Rocky?”  Of course keeping him alive also keeps alive the hope of sequels.  But maybe Rocky dying would have been contrary to the film franchise’s message of hope for the underdog?  Stallone has said as much in interviews.
Take You Back “hip hop” version (just bad)
Rocky envisioning Ivan Drago when he fights Tommy Gunn at the end.  Why Drago?   I guess it’s because they are both white and it was the most recent fight, the one that causes his brain damage?  But it seems hokey.
The woman that George Washington Duke uses to seduce Tommy Gunn is not even all that hot.  I mean, don’t get me wrong…Just sayin’, they must have been able to find someone hotter?
That same woman has the single cheesiest line in the film.  George Washington Duke tells Tommy, “No one remembers second place.”  And the woman says, “I know I don’t.”  As if telling someone you would drop them like a bad habit if they ever lose is a turn on.
Also, George Washington Duke says Tommy will live in regret if he never fights Rocky, thinking he only got a shot "because of his skin tone."  It's racial commentary that is totally without any context or apparent rationale.
At the end of the movie, George Washington Duke (can't get enough of that name) is telling Tommy to get up during the streetfight, after begging him to fight Rocky "only in the ring."  Why would Duke want his asset to get further bloodied?
A minor inconsistency-Rocky's kid sees him smoking early in the film, but later Rocky tells him that as he grew up, he "wised up" about smoking and other "bad things." 
Neither high or lowlight
Tommy Morrison’s acting.  It’s not good.  But somehow I believe that this ripped boxing champ is some punk kid from Oklahoma.  Flip a coin between his and Antonio Tarver’s performance in Rocky 6…
 For all its flaws, I feel that the story told in Rocky V has a rightful place in the character’s history.  I still can’t resist it when it’s on tv.  And because you’ve probably seen it the least of any of the Rocky movies, when you do sit down to watch it’s fresher.