In "Rock V," the underdog is officially diagnosed as "brain damaged." Yo. So what else is new?
Sylvester Stallone reprises his role of the punch-drunk Philadelphia Neanderthal for the fifth and, he swears, final time, jumping belatedly onto the tailgate of the thirtysomething bandwagon in this inert episode. Vowing to play a "monosyllabic side of beef" nevermore, Stallone transforms Balboa into a veritable blabberpuss.
Action fans familiar with the works of British playwright Harold Pinter will be at home with the garrulousness herein. "V" has more jabber than jabs, more palaver than punch, more yak than yuck, more lip service than split lips. For example, Rocky to Adrian (Talia Shire): "Well, maybe I'll take youse upstairs and violate youse like a parking meter." Romantic, soulful, thoughtful, Rocky gets quiche-ish on us. The Italian Stallion gets a stone in his hoof.
Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay, had planned to kill poor Rocky but decided on a kinder, gentler comeuppance -- bad investments that leave him financially strapped. Yo-woe. A boxing promoter (Richard Gant) urges Rocky to fight once more for a lucrative purse, but Adrian is dead set against it. And naturally, when the Balboas' California estate is auctioned off, Rocky takes the entire family back to the old neighborhood in South Philadelphia. He even starts wearing his old clothes.
So Rocky and his eternally soused brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), reopen the late Mickey's gym, where they train Rocky's successor, the talented puncher Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). Rocky Jr. (Stallone's son, Sage) is jealous of the attention his father lavishes on Tommy and eventually rebels by wearing an earring -- not a simple stud but a dangling arrangement. A domestic crisis ensues.
Tommy does the boxing in this sequel, which features Rocky as the idol he will use and betray. There are, however, flashbacks of Rocky's bout with the Russian in "Rocky IV," followed by a news conference in which Rocky says of the Russians, "Dey was great people."
Dat's the problem. Now Rocky's targets are smaller than life: bad real estate dealings, Don King-style promoters, child-rearing mishaps. It's realistic, it's the '80s, but is it Rocky?
They could almost call this one "Tommy," for the big blond Midwesterner the press calls "Rocky's Clone." "I'm like an angel on your shoulder," says the newly lovable Rocky, recalling what Mickey (Burgess Meredith) used to say to him when he was about to face those seemingly insurmountable odds, and he would become the little engine that could.
Stallone, directed again by John G. Avildsen, is the familiar camera-mugger, bunching his biceps and posing nude in the shower, pensive but still dumb as soap on a rope. Just as Stallone put on a pair of glasses to look smart, Rocky puts on this new thoughtfulness. "Da only difference between a hero and a coward is da hero goes for it," he says, in the manner of that famous American philosopher, Nike.
The only good thing you can say about "Rocky V" is that at least Stallone has the sense to throw in the towel.
Rocky V, at area theaters, is rated PG-13.