There's a disarming quality to Stallone's thoughtful script that has a way of stopping smirking skeptics right in their tracks, as if to say: "Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. But at least give me a shot here."
And darned if that gently self-effacing approach doesn't melt away those preconceived notions.
With his beloved Adrian having passed away, Rocky trudges along the streets of his South Philly neighborhood like a man who's been beaten down by the ravages of time and bittersweet memories of all-too-distant glories.
After having seemingly been put out to pasture for good, the Italian Stallion returns after a 16-year hiatus for yet another comeback in "Rocky Balboa." The time away from the ring has done Rocky and the franchise some good, although it takes pic a good long while to gather momentum and clout before a surprisingly satisfying third-act heavyweight bout. Absence has fostered a certain fondness toward Stallone's mythic underdog that will translate into solid if not quite K.O. B.O. through the holidays, with fine vid tourneys to follow in '07.
The long stretch away from the ring for Philly's favorite son -- and for Stallone as director, it's been a full 21 years since "Rocky IV" -- has allowed a certain coursecorrection toward the grimier, small-scale sensibility of the 1976 original, helmed by John Avildsen. The title itself, eschewing the increasingly risible Roman numerals, denotes a change required after Avildsen's bloated "Rocky V," even as certain aspects of previous entry's storyline have been conveniently or oddly ignored in Stallone's script.