“You knocked him down, how ’bout tryin’ ta knock me down now.”

Rocky V (1990)
Directed by John G. Avildsen 
Written by Sylvester Stallone

In all honesty, this movie isn’t as bad as its reputation. Is it as good as the first two movies in the series? God, it’s not even close, but it’s a fine way to kill two hours, if you don’t mind melodramatic overacting and a boxer who clearly has trouble acting reciting lines as a central part of the film.

Sylvester Stallone returns for the fifth installment in the series, which picks up immediately after the end of Rocky IV, where Rocky beats evil Russian Ivan Drago, avenges the death of his friend Apollo Creed and single-handedly wins the Cold War for the United States. But at what cost? Rocky Balboa comes out of the fight with some serious brain damage, and he decides to listen to Adrian (Talia Shire) and retire from boxing on top of the world. He’s a national hero! He’s got millions of dollars!

Well, not so much.

Before the family went to Russia for, apparently, months, Adrian’s brother, Paulie (Burt Young), unknowingly signs over power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant. He loses EVERYTHING in a real estate fiasco, forcing the family back to the mean streets of Philadelphia. We’re all back where we started, only now, Adrian won’t let Rocky fight to get some money back, because she doesn’t want him to die. Women… Rocky takes over the gym owned by his trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who died in Rocky III, where he meets young Oklahoman boxer Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison).

Rocky trains the kid and starts getting him national attention, but not a title shot, which frustrates Gunn. So he turns on Rocky, signing with Don King rip-off George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), who gets Gunn money, women, cars and a title shot. And Tommy becomes champion of the world. But living in Rocky’s shadow frustrates him, and it climaxes in a street fight outside a bar, where Rocky triumphantly takes several more blows to the head, but manages to knock out the younger, stronger, faster Gunn. Everyone is happy, though Rocky and his family are still poor. And somehow, Paulie manages to walk away without being beaten to death, which really should have happened at the end of the first act.

Along the way, Rocky destroys his relationship with his son, Robert (Sage Stallone). While the main story in the film is rife with head-scratching moments, Robert’s journey is somehow even dumber. The kid is shown early on to be much smarter and more artistic than his dad, and is immediately targeted by bullies before he even starts his first day at his new school. This is where I start to roll my eyes at my TV. I know kids can be dumb, but no bully is going to target the son of the WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION! Sure, you may get some licks in, but eventually, that kid is going to beat the living shit out of you. Of course that happens, and the bullies become Robert’s minions. He even steals the guy’s girlfriend! Good for him.

The younger Stallone, also, is a much better actor than Morrison, whose delivery is wooden every time he’s given more than a sentence or two at a time. Repeated cries of “I’m nobody’s robot! Nobody’s boy!” just gets tiresome, and his anger at Rocky is mostly laughable.

What saves the movie, for me, is Gant’s performance as promoter George Washington Duke. Gant chews the scenery every time he’s on camera, with every action he takes in the movie working toward getting Rocky in the ring for one more fight. He orchestrates the rift between Rocky and Gunn, and even sets up the final confrontation as a means to goad Balboa into a fight. Duke underestimates the stupidity of his client, though, his arrogance getting the better of him. When Rocky sends him onto the hood of a car with one punch, it’s a satisfying enough way to end the story.

The soundtrack for Rocky V, by the way, is completely all over the place. While it include’s Bill Conti’s classic “Gonna Fly Now,” it also features a ballad from Elton John (“The Measure of a Man”), tracks from MC Hammer (“That’s What I Said”) and SNAP (“Keep It Up”), along with “Winter Wonderland” performed by Ray Charles. Crazy.

Rocky V should have been the end of the Balboa story, which probably would have ended things on a less critically-acclaimed note. Lord knows Stallone has spoken about how much he hates the movie. It’s probably why he came back to do 2006’s ROCKY BALBOA, which had much better reception.

What did you think of Rocky V? Let us know in the comments!