Balboa’s darkest day is Cal’s chance for some cheap punches. Ding, ding.
Who made it?: John G. Avildsen (Director), Sylvester Stallone (Writer), Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler (Producers), Star Partners III Ltd./United Artists.
Who’s in it?: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Tommy Morrison, Richard Gant, Tony Burton.
Tagline: “Go for it!”
IMDb rating: 5.0/10.
The original Rocky from 1976 was a masterpiece. Its first follow-up, 1979’s Rocky II, was a strong sequel that retained the charms of its exceptional predecessor. Rocky III and Rocky IV followed in subsequent years, and the series deteriorated into a generic, cheesy action movie series without the heart or soul that initially characterised the franchise. For Rocky V, Sylvester Stallone cut down on the 80s excess and attempted to bring the titular character back down to earth. In an attempt to guarantee success, Stallone even hired John G. Avildsen – helmer of the original Rocky – to direct. But alas, this manufactured endeavour to capture the spirit of the original is a cloying, silly, awful cinematic abortion which completely lacks everything that made the Rocky series so endearing. Rocky V is not fun, nor is it uplifting, inspiring or motivating. As a drama it falls flat on its face, and as a piece of entertainment it’s a dismal failure.
Fresh from his upheaval of the evil Soviet empire in Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa returns to the United States to discover that his plane took ten years to land, and his son Rocky Jr. (played by Sly’s late son Sage) is now a teenager. Also, Rocky soon learns that he has irreparable brain damage and that all of his money has been lost by an unscrupulous financial advisor. Rocky is thus forced to retire from the ring and move back to his old low-rent neighbourhood in South Philadelphia with his wife (Talia Shire) and son. Soon, Rocky begins coaching an up-and-coming boxer named Tommy “Machine” Gunn (Tommy Morrison).
For lack of better word, Rocky V is a piece of shit. Those unfamiliar with the franchise will find it to be a naff, badly-written, boring drama, while Rocky fans will simply be depressed about how far the series has fallen. For starters, Balboa is never in the ring – he coaches (WTF?!) while Tommy does all the boxing. Even worse is the fact that the contrived plotline about Rocky losing his insurmountable fortune boils down to Paulie mismanaging their finances. Rocky and Adrian put Paulie in charge of their money?! Plus, what the fuck happened to the characters we used to know and love? Balboa is reduced to a pathetic shell of himself, living vicariously through a young punk boxer while his son – who is hurt and confused – stands by and watches his father become an asshole. A few films ago, Rocky was a lovable, humble, kind and gentle soul. Here, his behaviour is frequently embarrassing and his verbal bluster is no longer endearing. Rocky is an idiot here who ignores his family and gets duped along the way. Unlike the other films, this entry is dark and depressing throughout, with no redeeming payoff at the end.
Due to the shift in focus and the decision to mangle the proverbial formula, all of the elements from prior Rocky movies – the underdog tale, the training montages, and the big climactic boxing fight – are absent, and the picture is worse for it. Without this stuff, the film is utterly flavourless. Even Bill Conti’s score is terrible here – the trademark Rocky music was entirely excluded. Incorporating formula elements would have rendered the film by-the-numbers, sure, but at least it would have been fun. Worse, instead of a climactic boxing match, there’s a street brawl that’s as contrived as it is unsatisfying and cringe-worthy. On top of all this malarkey, there’s a subplot about Rocky’s son getting bullied at school. It’s unrealistic, silly and poorly handled. Essentially, kids steal Rocky Jr.’s lunch money and nobody does anything about it, so the punk trains himself and dishes out brutal payback. Wouldn’t there be consequences of such violence? Both parties could be charged for assault. Adding insult to injury, Jr. befriends the bullies after beating the snot out of them. What…the…fuck?!
It’s easy to understand why Stallone chose to cast his real-life son Sage as Rocky Jr., but the boy was far older than Rocky Krakoff (who played the role in Rocky IV) and it’s obvious. This film takes place immediately after the events of its predecessor, but it’s impossible to believe this because of the boy’s age. In addition, Sage’s performance is strictly average, and the silly earrings he adopts when he turns rebellious are just laughable. And, unfortunately, Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky ranks among his worst as an actor. For his work here, Sly copped a wholly deserved Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor. Shire was also nominated for a Razzie, and it’s not difficult to ascertain why. She is simply awful here – she’s shrill and annoying as Adrian. Meanwhile, boxer-turned-actor Morrison is serviceable as Tommy Gunn, and Richard Gant did a reasonable job as the arrogant boxing promoter.
On the bright side, Rocky V was at least well-crafted by director Avildsen. However, the film still sucks due to the awful Razzie-nominated script that’s beset with WTF moments and abysmal, cringe-inducing dialogue. While writing the script, Stallone chose to return Rocky to a life of poverty…which is exactly why this film is so wrong. What is the point of the entire series if all of Rocky’s wealth is taken away at the end of it? In 2008, Stallone told BBC interviewer Jonathan Ross that if asked to assign a star rating to Rocky V, he would give it a zero. Surely that’s a red flag? If you are a Rocky fan, Rocky V will drain your will to live. Give it a miss, trust me. Instead, after Rocky IV, go straight onto the far superior Rocky Balboa.
No montage, you say? Well, um, here’s the movie’s attempt at the fighting bit.
- Sylvester Stallone originally toyed with the idea of killing Rocky off at the end of the film. The plan was that Rocky would die in an ambulance on its way to the hospital with Adrian by his side. At the hospital, she would have announced to the world of his passing and his spirit would live on with a final flashback of the famous scene of him running up the steps. Stallone ultimately abandoned this concept and rewrote the ending.
- Jodi Letizia, who played street kid Marie in Rocky (1976), was supposed to reprise her role in this film. Her character was shown to have ended up as Rocky predicted she would: a prostitute, who had recently been made homeless. The scene however, ended up on the cutting room floor, although Letizia can briefly be seen during the street-fight at the end of the film. The character would be reintroduced properly in Rocky Balboa (2006), where she would be played by Geraldine Hughes.
- According to director John G. Avildsen, when shooting the picture, he felt that cinematographer Steven Poster was over-lighting many of the scenes, and thus negating the realism of the piece. He told Poster he wanted the film to look more like the original, which had been lit by James Crabe, oftentimes using a single spotlight to light an entire scene (such as the opening boxing match). Poster told Avildsen that the original film “looked like a cheap documentary.” Avildsen responded to this piece of criticism by smiling and saying, “Exactly.”
- This is the only film in the entire Rocky saga to have lost money at the box office.