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We're in the sixth round, and Stallone delivers a knockout punch

PUBLISHED: 12:18 25 January 2007 | UPDATED: 14:25 07 September 2010

Rocky Balboa (12A) Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes. 102 mins Four star rating I know you won t believe me but it s true – there s room in your heart for one more

Rocky Balboa (12A) Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes. 102 mins

Four star rating

I know you won't believe me but it's true - there's room in your heart for one more Rocky movie. Nobody wanted to see 60-year-old Stallone clambering back into the ring but when the old Rocky music strikes up over a training montage and Stallone stumbles and mumbles on to screen you won't believe a man can feel this good just from the expenditure of a cinema ticket (and I was never a big Rocky fan).

It could/should have been awful and in some ways it is. The storytelling is perfunctory. The plot sets up dilemmas like the boxing board refusing him a licence and the estranged son, only to have them effortlessly waved away with a motivational speech by Rocky.

The first hour moves at a daringly slow pace, which is in keeping with its proudly conservative, old-fashioned nature. It's a film about heart over head, work over pleasure, Rocky I over Rocky IV, Sinatra over hip-hop.

Though he is careful to have his black friend, I wonder if at some level the film is about the negative effects of African-American culture on society. Balboa goes on and on about the decline of the old (white) neighbourhood; whites who adopt a gangsta attitude in a bar have to be sorted out and both the major black characters need Rocky's influence to push them into becoming really decent people.

At the start, Rocky is unfulfilled, running a restaurant in Philly, trapped in a cycle of mourning for wife Adrian who died two years earlier. Meanwhile, the heavyweight division is bossed by the unbeaten Mason "The Line" Dixon. Audiences hate Dixon because there is nobody around to challenge him. Then a computer simulation fight between Rocky and Dixon suggests a solution.

Rocky VI, to give it a number, works because its story exactly matches that of its star. Months ago I was hailing the return of Ben Affleck from celebrity clowndom. But that is nothing compared with Stallone who has been kept at an arm's length from quality for about two decades.

He's been down long enough, he's paid his dues. Even when it's ponderous, the movie is propped up by enormous audience goodwill. Suddenly we all want to see him succeed again.

Rocky Balboa is a film for men who get teary during World Cup montages, a shameless man-weepie for a generation of blokes who were never going to be contenders. I'm frankly embarrassed by how much I enjoyed it.

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