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  Rocky V
John G. Avildsen, USA, 1990
Rating: 3.0
 

Posted: July 13, 2004

Perhaps no other cinematic serial has captured the human struggle better than the Rocky series. Sure, Jim Wynorski's Chopping Mall comes close, but it lacks the gritty, working-class reality of Sylvester Stallone's offerings. Look, it ain't easy being Rocky. First he raises himself out of the gutter, and one of the worst apartments I've ever seen, to luck into a shot at the world championship. He loses to Apollo Creed, but finds himself in the process, which helps him eventually paste Creed in a rematch and actually win the heavyweight championship. Then his manager dies, and Mr. T gives him an ass-beating of epic proportions, after which Rock and Apollo team up to reduce Mr. T to a pitiable fool and regain the crown. And as if that weren't enough, he ends up traveling to the USSR to avenge his buddy Apollo's death at the hands of a giant Russian robot (Dolph Lundgren), and gives a heartfelt speech so moving it apparently persuades the Soviets to abandon communism. Is this dude's work ever done?

Enter Rocky V, the cherry on top of the ice cream that is the Rocky franchise. It seems that Rocky's health is deteriorating from one too many hits to the ol' coconut. On top of this, he has apparently hired the same accountants who work for Shaking Through, because all of his money is gone. (At least Rocky never had to work for my, uh, esteemed editor, a penny-pinching tightwad that would make Ebenezer Scrooge look like the Sultan of Brunei.)

So now a beaten, broke-ass Rocky Balboa has to return to the mean streets of Philadelphia. Rocky V is a return to the less polished, more street-style Balboa (of course, this might have something to do with the return of the first Rocky director, John G. Avildsen, after three straight stellar efforts by Stallone). He's trying to feed his family and train a bright new upstart named Tommy Gunn. He's also feeling pressure from Don King, uh, I mean George Washington Duke, a ruthless promoter intent upon getting Rocky into the ring one last time. Will Rocky take the money and risk his health for one last payoff?

Who cares? What really matters is that Rocky V is filled with the humor and screen presence of Burt Young as Paulie, Rocky's unemployable, drunk, layabout, good-for-less-than-nothing brother-in-law. Young will forever be linked to this role, for better or worse. He is the Horatio to Rocky's Hamlet, an everyman who through poor grammar and less-than-ideal hygiene stamps this work with an earthiness that perhaps only a Mickey Rourke could hope to equal. No matter how rich Rocky got, Paulie never shed his barfly crustiness.

Anyway, Tommy Gunn's career is hijacked by Duke and the inevitable Rocky versus Gunn fight starts to take shape. In an effort to get out of Rocky's shadow, Gunn calls him out at a local bar. Now, here's where things get a bit loopy. Somehow, the street fight that ensues is broadcast on live television, where Rocky's wife and son happen to see it. After taking a pretty good beating, Rocky prevails. From a plot point of view, this leaves a little to be desired. After he wins, what does the man get? His big reward is to go back to his one-bathroom half-a-double apartment and eat Spaghetti-O's with his family. I mean, damn! He shoulda taken the fight that Duke offered and gotten paid! That's just me; admittedly, I lack the heart of the Italian Stallion.

All in all, this is a pretty depressing story. That same inspirational Rocky theme, the one that got you fired up to start working out, that made you believe that you could fly, leads back to the bottom? I guess there's a message about character here, but I am far too shallow to understand it. Couldn't Rocky win the lottery or something? Wouldn't that be a happier ending? Rocky Cinco tries to return to some of the hardscrabble settings of the original Rocky, and it succeeds. But by now Rocky has become such a larger-than-life persona that Rocky V just feels... wrong. It's like seeing an old, Salvation Army-dwelling Superman eating Jello pudding and talking about how he "used" to fly. It's just a major letdown. But on the upside, you do get to see Burt Young flex his acting muscles, and for that alone, Rocky V is worth the price of a rental.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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