Rocky 60. Who'd a thunk it? The big lug just doesn't know when to stay down. Last seen some 15 years ago, broke but not quite broken, Rocky reemerges here as a celebrity restauranteur in the old neighbourhood. He's living off old glories, the walls of his place lined with mementos from yesteryear. The customers come to hear his war stories and get a picture with the champ. He's happy to oblige.
Adrian has passed away, but Paulie (Burt Young) is still kicking, even if he's had up to here with his brother's sentimental streak. Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) keeps his distance. His old man casts too long a shadow.
So Rocky is feeling blue: nobody wants to be yesterday's man. He meets a woman from the neighbourhood. Marie (Geraldine Hughes) was just a kid way back when, but now she has a grown son, a broken porch light, and a job tending bar for junkies and prostitutes. Rock takes a shine to her, fixes the light situation, tries to fix the rest.
Meanwhile ESPN run a gimmicky computer-simulated bout, a hypothetical face off between Rocky in his prime and the current reigning heavyweight champion, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver). Rocky knows it's crazy, but Dixon's handlers reckon there might be money in an exhibition match, and maybe some good PR. The harder Rocky thinks about it, the harder it becomes to say No.
Okay, so it's a crazy idea, and admitting that it's a crazy idea doesn't change that. And it doesn't make much sense that such a blatantly one-sided set up would constitute good publicity for a champion who is being roasted for picking off inadequate contenders. And no, I can't imagine Rocky's heartfelt plea to the medical board to let him do his job would cut much ice in the real world.
But anyone who has grown up with the Rocky movies is going to be pulling for the Stallion. And to be fair, Stallone looks to be in pretty good shape, so what if he has calcium deposits on his joints and can't take a punch? He's got a heart like a whale and nothing to lose but his dignity, and his life, and then brain damage is a very real possibility.
Let's face it: no fight, no movie. That's all there is to it. But this Rocky movie isn't really about boxing. It's about Stallone looking to reclaim the best part of himself and find some self respect after all this time. And this he does. Because Rocky's machismo is wrapped up in gallantry, pride, passion, and the poetry of giving it your best shot - even if you'll always be more of a chump than a champ.
For some strange reason - and let's call it a coincidence - there is no shortage of old folk's films around like now; two from Clint Eastwood, Altman's Prairie Home Companion, Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal, Helen Mirren in The Queen, Peter O'Toole in Venus. Steeped in regret for time passing, Rocky Balboa is as honest and affecting as any of them.