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The Final Countdown

After sixteen years away, Rocky Balboa is back. Chris went to see how the old man’s shaping up, at a special Comic Relief preview screening…

Published on January 19th 2007.

The Final Countdown

I had some difficulty growing up watching Rocky. Until Rocky III, I firmly believed that he was a ‘real’ fighter. Film was merely the medium by which this brawler was brought to life. The day I realised this wasn’t true was far worse than discovering Santa didn’t exist.

I don’t remember the last time I was this fired up for a film’s opening. Too many films these days are unnecessarily surrounded by Hollywood-hype. But Rocky Balboa deserves all its pre-fight build up.

Can you believe it’s been sixteen years since Rocky last stepped into the ring? And over thirty years have passed since the ‘Italian Stallion’ first hit the silver screen? How much has changed, you ask? Thankfully, not that much.

Ringside seats were provided by our friends at Comic Relief (more on their ‘fight’ later).

The film opens with Balboa almost back where he started – on the mean streets of Philly. He’s tormented by the loss of wife Adrian but her memory lives on in the form of a modest restaurant – a place where fans can meet the ex-champ and hear old battle stories.

But this ain’t enough for our man.

An American news channel plays a computer-generated fight between Rocky and the current undisputed world champion, Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver). Rocky wins convincingly and this gets people talkin’…the money-men sniff the chance of making a few bucks and set out to get their man.

Rocky is reluctant at first, knowing that going toe-to-toe with someone forty years his junior is suicide. But like all the great boxers, Rocky's got more in the ‘basement’ and he needs to step in the ring one last time.

This is where things really get going. Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now kicks in and entire rows across the cinema get off their seats and start shadow-boxing (me included).

Old favourites Duke (Tony Burton) and Uncle Paulie (Burt Young) are on-hand to help our champ train in typically unsophisticated surroundings (think freezer houses with pigs). Rocky ain’t got speed and there’s calcium deposits on his joints – so they set about building ‘some hurting bombs’. It’s scripting like this which makes you almost wet yourself with excitement.

The cinematography is simple but effective. Stallone flits between colour and black and white – and makes you wonder whether Rocky really is past his prime. Stallone’s physique is awesome and he doesn’t look out of place in the ten-round exhibition bout.

There’s no need to say any more, ‘cause you just need to get to the cinema and see it.

Remember, the bell hasn’t rung for Stallone and his super-heroes…Rambo IV opens next year…can’t wait.

Rocky Balboa opens tonight at the Odeon. Click here to book your tickets.

You could be forgiven for only thinking about Comic Relief once a year – when Lenny Henry and Co go all out for the night. But you shouldn’t.

These guys are fighting all year round to raise money for projects at home and abroad. For more info on what these wonderful people are up to, log onto www.comicrelief.com

Chris Dolan

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