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Movie Review: "Rocky Balboa"

It's hard for me to believe that thirty years have gone by since the first "Rocky" movie. I assume most of you have seen it. But I also know that a lot of you are too young to know the splash that movie made not just as a movie, but as a pop culture icon. Sylvester Stallone's creation became a symbol for underdogs everywhere, and the triumphant little dance he makes after running up the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum is one of the most indelible pop-culture images perhaps ever. And this from a guy whose biggest splash in movies up to that time was the amiable, but lightweight, "The Lords of Flatbush".

Sequels were made, and as is often the case with sequels, none were as good as the original, and the last of them, Rocky V, which came out sixteen years ago, wasn't very good at all.

That's one of the reasons "Rocky Balboa" was made -- Stallone wasn't happy with the way the series had ended.

But this movie stands on its own as a good story, not just as an "ending".

I won't ruin anything for you if I give you the basic setup: Rocky's long-retired from boxing, and now owns a neighborhood Italian restaurant named after his wife Adrian (who could forget "Yo! Adrian!" from the first film?), who has passed away. He spends much of his time there regaling the customers with stories of his boxing days. He has a twentysomething son (nicely played by Milo Ventimiglia of "Gilmore Girls") who is trying to make his own way in the world, but who finds that being "Rocky's son" is hard on him -- he spends most of his life angry at the world.

Just when you think this movie is going to degenerate into an exercise in pointless nostalgia, Rocky makes a speech to his son that not only transforms the son's life, but Rocky's as well.

There's a love interest too, played by Geraldine Hughes, and no disrespect is done to the character of Adrian in portraying this woman who genuinely cares about Rocky, and he about her, though nothing ever happens further than a sweetly done kiss.

There's no need for me to tell you how the setup of the fight is done -- see the movie for yourself. It wouldn't be a "Rocky" movie without a fight, and in the end, it doesn't really matter who wins. What matters is that a fitting tribute is paid to the entire "Rocky" series of films by this one, and you'll find yourself well satisfied by the ending.

Rocky is supposed to be in his mid-50s in the timeframe of this film, and Stallone himself turned 60 last summer, and he is in tremendous shape for a man that age. This makes the boxing scenes, done with the silly-named Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver, who is 38), more believable.

This movie is a fun diversion and worth an afternoon at the theater. I took Mark; it is rated PG and perfectly suitable for 11-year-olds.

I'll have today's top 100 post up later this afternoon.