Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Rocky V (1990)

Until last week, I hadn't seen Rocky V since the early '90s but as the credits rolled I instantly remembered an exchange between me and my sister and her then boyfriend from that first watch;

Me, on hearing the song over the credits: "Is that Elton John?"

My sister: "Yeah. Strange choice"

My sister's then boyfriend: "Not really, the amount of times he's been punished in the ring"

My sister: (Laughs)

Me: Elton John was a boxer?"

This has the ignoble achievement of being the very worst Rocky film in the franchise, coming just behind the dismal Rocky III. The problem is, where Rocky III (and Rocky IV) was unutterably cheesy, Rocky V commits the cardinal sin of being unbearable saccharine, introducing Sage Stallone as Rocky's kid and exploring the fault lines in the father and son relationship.

Well, I say it's Sage Stallone. I'm actually now almost convinced that it's the young Sacha Baron Cohen.

Whereas Rocky IV pays off by virtue of being a nostalgic treat, Rocky V just looks embarrassing. Maybe there will come a day when we look back at the fashions and trends of the early '90s and its godawful rap and naff hip hop as fondly as we currently do with the '80s, but that isn't happening now.

Which brings me to the awful continuity here. It was 1985 when Rocky fought Ivan Drago (we know this because Rocky tells Adrian they've been married 9 years, and he did indeed marry her in '76) yet when their plane touches down on American soil after that successful bout, it's somehow 1990 - meaning Rocky, Adrian and Paulie have been up in the air for five years. No wonder Rocky's accountant robbed him blind! Things get more complicated when Rocky's son is clearly older than he was when they left for the USSR (and he has a different head, but let's ignore that one for now - we all managed to ignore the fact that Creed's window was played by Mrs Huxtable in Creed, right?) and when Rocky later tries to appeal to his rapidly disillusioned sprog by reminding them of how they spent Christmas last, mate, you were in Russia on Christmas last year, remember? No wonder the kid's pissed at you. Any more of this addled continuity and I'll start to think I'm the one with brain damage, not Rocky. This makes the longer hair/sudden weight loss that skewered the continuity between the first and second film look like nothing at all.

Anyway, Rocky's money has all gone and the docs advise him he has incurable brain damage from the beating he took at the hands of Drago, so he's forced to retire and return the family back to Philly. Now this is actually a great idea and it would seem a shrewd idea to bring the first film's director John G Avildsen back on board too. However, whilst its great to see Stallone returning the dumb lug character traits to Rocky (in no way is this the mature superman who we saw in III and IV, this really is the Rocky of the first and second film) neither he nor Avildsen can pull off a properly successful return to the series roots. The script is clunky and toothless, with exposition scenes sounding like they'd been written in crayon by infants, and the whole look of the film has something of the Hallmark TV movie about it.

Watching this as an 11 year old I was really happy to see Burgess Meredith return as Mickey in flashback (and a somewhat encouraging spectral presence in the final reel) However, what I didn't appreciate as a child is that originally, the relationship between contender and trainer was a much acerbic and complex one than the touching father and son depiction Rocky V has depicted in a revisionist fashion (and by way of something Cus D'Amato said about Mike Tyson) The original film is a lot more honest about how Mickey - who wrote Rocky off as a bum for having so little morality as to work for a loan shark - sees his own opportunity in Creed's unlikely offer to Rocky. It's actually quite a selfish gesture, but both men are wise enough to realise they perhaps need each other and there differences are ultimately put aside. None of that is depicted here, instead Mickey is seen as a twinkly wise old sage who always believed in Rocky and had his best intentions at heart.

Also coming back is Father Carmine ("I love it when he does that") Jane Marla Robbins as Gloria, the pet shop owner, and Jodi Letizia as Marie, the uncouth street kid that Rocky warned was on the way to being the neighbourhood whore in the first film, who is now - yup, you guessed it the neighbourhood whore. Well, she would have been back, if Avildsen didn't leave all her scenes on the cutting room floor. The character would return in the next film, Rocky Balboa, albeit played by Geraldine Hughes.

New faces this time around include the film's antagonists; George Washington Duke played by Richard Gant, a pretty obvious Don King style promoter, and tragic real life fighter Tommy Morrison and his godawful mullet as Tommy 'The Machine' Gunn - a character that at least proves that  Stallone was always a sucker for a stupid name. Seriously, what is with that? Unfortunately the new characters are largely obnoxious and either played as such or played so underwhelmingly as to be irritating to the audience anyway; Morrison and Sage Stallone certainly fit into the latter category.

Rocky V was intended as the final film in the series. Indeed, Stallone originally wrote it with Rocky dying in Adrian's arms following the street fight with his protege Tommy Gunn. However, Stallone changed his mind during filming and the door was left open which has allowed us Rocky Balboa and Creed in recent years.

This was however Talia Shire's last contribution to the Rocky franchise as his loving wife, Adrian. Though she actually has a teensy bit more to do her than her usual 'I don't want you to do this, Rocky' scenes of the previous two movies, the film still squanders her.  It does however give us an alarming and uncharacteristic insight into their sex life in the following exchange;

Rocky: "How 'bout I take you upstairs and violate you like a parking meter?"

Adrian: "It'll cost you a quarter"

Beggars belief really doesn't it?

Knockout Rating: 2 Punches out of 5.

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