In the obligatory boxing terms, Balboa will K.O. your expectations, but that may only be because they're rightfully below the belt to begin with--and because this sixth installment is coming after the bell has already rung.
It's been over a decade since Rocky "The Italian Stallion" Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) last set foot in a boxing ring. He still calls SoPhi home (that's South Philly), but just about everything else has changed: Adrian (Talia Shire) has died of cancer; his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) has gone from a fiery kid to a cold, shrewd corporate yuppie; and his old pal/brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) won't hear of Rock-o's talk of the past. Rocky himself is now a businessman of sorts, running his local eatery, fittingly called Adrian's, where each night he treats diners to stories from the ring and free photo-ops. Rocky's also older and softer, but not necessarily wiser. After ESPN airs a computerized "What if?" bout between him and current champ Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), which Rocky wins, Rocky gets the itch and Dixon's promoters see a huge financial opportunity as well as a chance to endear the hated Dixon to fans. They plan a safe, exhibition-style match between the two, but things don't always go according to plan, do they?!
It may sound blasphemous, but the reason Sly Stallone has always slid so seamlessly into the role of Rocky is because, well, let's just say that the part of a battered jock who has trouble getting his words out suits him perfectly, to put it nicely. He continues down that same path here, with a performance so off that it has, indeed, become part of the franchise's appeal and the character's endearment. Stallone pumps out a few genuine tears this time, but the gross overusage of the word ''yo'' to emphasize his fighter's brutishness is a microcosm of all that's wrong. But of course, it's not as though this movie would've lived or died on its performances. Nonetheless, the others turn in fine performances. New additions Ventimiglia (TV's Heroes), Geraldine Hughes--who stars as "Little Marie" all grown up--and real-life boxing star Tarver are all pleasant surprises, with Tarver shockingly adequate as a form of his own self. And Young, one of the most prolific actors of his generation, has appeared with Stallone in each of the six Rockys. His drunken, loud-mouth histrionics are by now almost as integral to Rocky as Rocky.
Let's not beat around the bush: Stallone is 60, and Rocky V came out in 1990. Whatever reasoning he comes up with for releasing a sixth movie 15 years later is questionable, let alone the potential for further sullying a dying, once-great franchise. It would seem a safety net for the aging Stallone, a film entity who, let's face it, struggles mightily when he's not Rocky--or Rambo, whose own resurrection is set for next year. The franchise is gratuitous at this point, and usually spoofs are the only type of movies that are afforded significant longevity. All that said, and with the expectations now lowered if not gone, Stallone writes and directs a crowd-pleaser at the very least with Balboa. It's very uncomplicated, there's no doubt the path will lead to him un-retiring and if you try you'll find endless things to laugh at, but the no-frills movie will still have wide appeal, mostly to anyone who's not a film buff--although even some of them will take the bait. The bottom line is that while Balboa is truly laughable in spots because of Stallone, as a writer/director, he returns somewhat faithfully to the Rocky roots and does enough to provoke audience fist pumps.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.