By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Richard Gant, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Tony Burton and Burgess Meredith
If you were to, one by one, take a snapshot of Stallone’s life at the time each of the Rocky films were made, it becomes quite obvious where his inspiration for each one lies. In the first film, Rocky is a struggling boxer trying to make it. Like Stallone’s struggles as an actor. The second film detailed the pressure to outdo yourself, which comes with succeeding at an ultra high level. The third and fourth films detailed excess. The excessive celebrity that Stallone had become (it was around this time he was dating many actresses of the day, some of which were twenty years younger than him). So, what exactly does the fifth film represent? Well, as is outlined not fifteen minutes in, it details Stallone’s fall from grace. After all, Stallone’s career was not in top form around this time, as he was consistently starring in flops like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Stallone has said that this was the only movie he had done up to this point that was just for the money. This wasn’t all about taking ‘Rocky back to his roots.’ This was about putting money in Stallone’s pocket. And, I think, as a result, Rocky V’s story suffers.
Rocky V, as i have already outlined, details Rocky’s fall from the top of the highest mountain: success. With the exception of his family, he has officially lost it all. And Rocky, throughout the course of the film, does his best to tear that down as well. Now, I agree with the instinct to do this to the character. After all, it was hard to identify with a character who was originally written as an everyman but then turned into a millionaire. But, the way in which it was lost still boggles my mind, and, much like the majority of this film, feels like lazy writing on Stallone’s part. So, Paulie had Rocky sign papers that gave over rights to an attorney that makes Rocky lose each and every penny he has? That is some attorney. Anyway, this is just one of many aspects of this film that lingers with people, and one of many reasons why people still think of it as Rocky’s unfinest hour.
The thing about Rocky V is that it tries so hard to put you in the same mindset of the original film. Stallone, not wanting the burden of wearing the writer, star, and director hats, brought in original helmer John Avildsen to put the directing one on. And, whether this was Stallone’s script or Avildsen’s head being full of three straight Karate Kid films, his direction seems way off here. His camera angles are not always spot on (check the entire Mickey scene for proof of this) and he even stages a scene that is a mirror image of Rocky’s very first scene, which was Rocky fighting someone against the backdrop of Christ. Except, only this time, it is the body of new protegé Tommy Gunn that is melded with that same image. I am afraid that does not carry the same impact, Mr Avildsen. However, if there is one thing about Rocky V that I have absolutely no complaints about it was its editing. Beginning with the opening titles, where every devastating hit from previous opponent Ivan Drago is accompanied by echos of returning composer Bill Conti’s music and still images of the returning actors as their names grace the screen, the film’s editing is its own star. Even during the film’s final fight, there are flashbacks and random images thrown throughout, and everything on a fluid level works very well.
The performances in Rocky V are truly off and on. Paulie (Young) has never been a greatly written character, but he really struggles here. His character comes off worse than ever here. The weird part about the role Young embodies is that no matter how despicable he had come off in past sequels, there was always at least one thing he did that redeemed him. Here, beginning with his handling of Rocky’s money and ending with him getting shoved around at the bar, Paulie never feels like a character that you would want to leave around. Adrian once again has a speech, and once again Shire brings this character out in a grand way. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the third film, Shire has remained the one constant that seems to always rise to the occasion. Where the performances really falter is with the newcomers. Morrison has some laughable deliveries (especially when he is trying to sweet talk Rocky into training him and near the end when he is yelling at the press conference). Gant, as Don King knockoff George Washington Duke, is over boisterous. But, considering who he was emulating, that may be the most perfect performance of the series. Believe it or not, I had absolutely no problems with Sage Stallone. Nepotism or not, all indications pointed to him completely Sofia Coppola-ing up this role. And, honestly, once I got past his earring, he brought some good emotions out of a character that had every right to be upset. Rocky, by all indications, was not a good father. Sage, through his performance, brings out in their arguments all the frustration that came with being his son was something that festered but never come out. Until now.
Rocky V, with the exception of its crisp editing, is just lazy filmmaking. Stallone really dropped the ball here, and his writing of scenes such as Mickey reappearing to him in a vision (was he a father figure, or a trainer that always yelled insults to bring out the best in him?) and the inclusion of things like the necklace with a glove that was supposedly first given to Mickey by Marciano are all things that are just poor. And, don’t even get me started on the newly reformed bully who comes over for Christmas. Everything about Rocky V, even its final fight (and final line of that fight) is bad. Don’t ‘go for it,’ folks. Let Rocky V live in 1990, where it embarrassingly lost the holiday box office to Home Alone.
2 out of 5