There is no movie this holiday season I wanted to see less than Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone already had one go at resurrecting his most beloved character as a creaky, years-beyond-his-prime has-been, in Rocky V, and no one gave much of a damn then. So why should we care about Rocky again? It turns out that the added years only benefit the character, making him seem touchingly new because he’s so old. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky, fast approaching AARP status (Stallone turned 60 this year), is in his late Jake La Motta phase — he’s a droopy, shambling relic with calcified joints who runs an Italian eatery, entertaining customers with boxing tales they already know by heart. Since he’s famous, we aren’t asked to feel sorry for him (even as he moons over his late, beloved Adrian), and damned if Stallone doesn’t tap right back into the Rocky charm — the soft-brained lug logic and slurry nobility, the feeling, enhanced by his meat-locker bulk, that he’s a caveman simpleton who knows only how to fight.
He gets his chance when ESPN runs a simulated bout between Rocky and the current champ, Mason ”The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), and the prospect of a cross-generational exhibition fight becomes a Vegas media jackpot. There is much to poke at in Rocky Balboa, yet the movie, with its amusingly updated ”Gonna Fly Now” montage and its very niftily staged climactic bout, summons just enough incredulous wit about just how often Rocky has been around this particular block to let Sylvester Stallone earn his nostalgia.