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Rocky Balboa

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Damn you, Rocky. For 16 years, I've thought I was over you. Rocky V was worse than bad: It wasn't fun. And so I broke up with you and just tried to remember the good times. And now, after all these years, you come back in my life and knock me out again with your broad-stroke inspirations and winning punch-drunk smile.

As the movie begins, Rocky's beloved Adrian is dead (of "woman cancer"), leaving a still-grieving husband and son (Milo Ventimiglia) who can't quite figure each other out. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is now mugging through old pugilism stories to diners in his restaurant, Adrian's. The movie's filled with in-jokes and references to the early films in the series, revisiting the pet store and ice rink, among other places. It's even good for a few Spider Rico jokes. Stallone writes and directs; he's better at the former.

The movie follows the real world in that the boxing heavyweight division is a joke. Current champ Mason Dixon (real-life former light-heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver) is powerful but unpopular. Dixon needs a challenge. Rocky needs an opportunity. Dixon's promoters bill their bout as an exhibition match, basically a sparring session rather than a real fight. A portion of the proceeds goes to charity. It's not much more than a photo op. Sound familiar? (If Willie Herenton could have cast himself in the Rocky mold, I'm sure he would've.)

Stallone mumbles his way through dialogue like he's taken a few too many to the head -- it's been too long since I've seen him on screen to know if this is acting or natural. Whereas the fights in the first three Rocky films were spectacles of choreography, the big fight in Balboa relies too much on catchy editing.

Nevertheless, Rocky Balboa: You had me at "yo."

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