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‘Rocky V’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 16, 1990

Moments after that brutal bout with Dolph Lundgren in "Rocky IV" -- and you did watch "Rocky IV," didn't you? -- Sly Stallone mistakes his wife for his dead boxing coach. This is not a good sign, even for the Rockster.

Yes, "Rocky" -- read my Roman numerals -- "V" is here and, it turns out, all that head-buffeting the Italian Stallion received at the hands of Soviet machine Dolph, Mr. T. and all those other opponents has further pureed his gray matter into cranial polenta. Brain damage, say the requisite two doctors. Irreversible. But not irreversible enough. Apparently there was still enough active brain mush to script this ridiculous sequel about fathers and sons, mentors and palookas.

Not only has Rocky retired, not only is he addleheaded, but he's penniless because brother-in-law Burt Young unwittingly gave all the Balboa earnings to an unscrupulous accountant. So Stallone, wife Talia Shire and (real-life) son Sage Stallone must return to hard-times Philadelphia. Shire goes back to work in the pet store, the kid gets beaten up in the tough local school and Stallone is plain adrift.

When burning-to-make-it Okie contender Tommy Morrison begs Stallone to train him, our Philly pughead initially resists but then changes his mind. The kid (name of Tommy "Machine" Gunn) learns fast and punches hard. Suddenly he's 22 and 0, Rocky's a big-name coach with his own protege and sleazy promoter Richard Gant (an unimaginative spin on Don King) wants a piece of the action. Money talks, the kid goes over to the other side and Rocky's suddenly being challenged by his own disciple.

Director John G. Avildsen, who did the first "Rocky" and all three "Karate Kid" movies, goes from slow-moving Balboa family scenes to scrapping episodes in Sage Stallone's school of hard knocks, to Avildsen's trademark, music-driven sequences, as the "Machine" Gunn trains for the big fight.

Despite Stallone's bantamweight attempts to insert, like, character into the fifth "Rocky," it's the same old fight with the same old round of regulars. It seems silly wasting money on actors when the same could be achieved with Muppets. Rocky has little to do except shuffle around and mutter "cute" Rocky t'ings:

"Da guy dat ran dis gym," he tells the aspiring Tommy Gunn, "dat was a manager. I was just da {pause} managed guy."

Burt Young, who is three knucklehairs short of being completely Cro-Magnon, merely has to mumble, threaten people with baseball bats and stumble around in search of alcohol. A Talia Shire Muppet would be pretty basic too. She merely has to look sad when Rocky's taking punches, perk up when he's giving them, cheer when he wins, then drape herself around his bloody, triumphant body at the end.

Well, what does it matter anyway? There won't be a "Rocky VI." Will there?

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