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“Rocky Balboa” is the best of the six Rocky movies

“Rocky Balboa”
Running time: 102 min.
MPAA rating: PG

“Rocky Balboa” is the sixth film in the plucky pugilist’s 30-year cinematic career — and one of the best of the batch.
Not since the original “Rocky” has Sylvester Stallone portrayed Balboa with such vulnerability and humanity. This film is so well-written and acted that I would’ve rather seen more scenes with the characters in their daily life than the final 30-minute boxing match.

The film takes place back in Philly. Pushing 60, Rocky’s career is long over. His wife, Adrian, has been dead for a few years, and Rocky Jr. is off to make his way in the corporate world. Junior (Milo Ventimiglia of “Heroes”) is having a tough time living in dad’s shadow, so he and Pop don’t speak much.
This leaves Rocky alone, brokenhearted and living a life without meaning. When he isn’t spending time at Adrian’s grave, he’s running a modest little restaurant (named Adrian’s) where he regales the patrons with tales of past battles.
Thankfully, Rocky stumbles upon a woman from his past, “Little” Marie (Geraldine Hughes), a woman he hasn’t spoken to since he walked her home 30 years ago when she was a wayward teen. The affection between these two characters is mature and unspoken, and it trumps anything we ever saw from Talia Shire.
Just as things start looking up, enter Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the current champ whose fights are all setups. Dixon is looking for respect, and the only way to get it is by fighting the ex-champ. Rocky needs to purge himself of some “demons in the basement,” i.e., get over Adrian’s death so he can move on with life, and teach his son the meaning of courage.
Cue the montage music.
I know I spoke heresy in the second paragraph, but “Rocky Balboa” would’ve been a better film without the boxing match. The performances and the relationships between the characters are so strong, this movie could stand on its own without the fight scene.
Even still, “Rocky Balboa” is a fine movie, almost as good as the original.