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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - Page updated at 09:08 AM

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Movie Review

Stallone mumbles and rumbles through yet another round of "Rocky"

Seattle Times movie critic

Yo, readers: Rocky's back. This time, he's given up boxing for good, and brushed up his diction and embarked upon a new career as a ballroom-dance instructor, and is about to make his debut as a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," in which he practices and practices for that climactic sequin-clad rumba, and ...

Yeah, right. "Rocky Balboa" (which, in a consistent world, would be called "Rocky VI") holds no surprises: It involves a boxing comeback, some training, a climactic match and countless choruses of "Gonna Fly Now." All Rocky movies are like this; we wouldn't expect anything more or less. In the words of a character in the film, "It is what it is." (To which another character replies, thoughtfully, "Yeah. It is what it is." I don't remember what "it" was, but I do remember the dialogue, which has a strangely hypnotic effect.)

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

Opens today

"Rocky Balboa" with Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, James Francis Kelly III, Antonio Tarver. Written and directed by Stallone.

102 minutes.

Rated PG for boxing violence and some language.

Several theaters.

So, what's different for the sixth time around? Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote and directed), 30 years after the events of the first film, is still living in the old neighborhood on Philadelphia's South Side. His beloved wife Adrian is gone, having died a few years ago of "a woman cancer," as Rocky says in his trademark mumble. (At least I think that's what he said; really, it could have been anything.) No longer a boxer, but still capable of a few pull-ups in his backyard, he now owns a modest restaurant and spends his evening regaling the patrons with stories of his glory days. Though his son (Milo Ventimiglia) is distant, he's still close to brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young, continuing his "Rocky" streak).

Need I share that Rocky ends up in the boxing ring again, bad knees and all, after he gets an offer that he can't refuse? And that once again, he runs up those steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with a soaring chorus behind him? And that Marie (Geraldine Hughes), a character who exists presumably because there needed to be a woman in the movie (she's not a love interest, as Adrian's memory is too sacred), looks him in the eye and says, "You're gonna prove that the last thing to go on somebody is their heart?"

All of this is tolerable, and at times even enjoyable, in the way that it's fun to read a book from your youth when you already know it by heart. And Stallone, with that rumbling voice that seems to be piped in from someplace else (somewhere below the sidewalk, perhaps), is a likable lug, sauntering through the movie in his porkpie hat. He's become a sort of philosopher king, making pronouncements to whoever's willing to listen — and, more often than not, improving their lives through his words. "Every guy should at one time name an animal something," he intones to Marie's troubled son, and sure enough, after naming a dog Punchy, the kid is soon a better person. "The older I get, the more t'ings I have to leave behind," he sagely tells the medical advisory board (who, nasty graybeards all, don't want to approve him for a boxing license).

Stallone's performance is so loose and familiar, it can seem almost improvised. "I'm probably better than the average bear. Now where that came from, I don't know," he tells Marie, with a cheerful puzzlement, as if he doesn't really have any control over what he's saying. (Since Stallone the actor is delivering lines written by Stallone the screenwriter, and since Stallone himself is so entangled in the role of Rocky, it's a wonderfully weird mirrors-within-mirrors moment.) But he's genuinely sweet in the scenes at Adrian's grave, and hey — you can't not root for Rocky.

Ultimately, is "Rocky Balboa" necessary? Of course not. But neither are plenty of other movies that find their way to theaters, and this one at least provides some undemanding entertainment. "Rocky VII"? Don't rule it out.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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