Rocky III

April 11, 2011

They’re saying TRON is the first computer-generated movie. That may be technically and literally true, but my vote goes to Rocky III. The third segment of the (heaven help us) possibly endless Rocky series is the most lifeless and hollow entry by far. Now, I was one of the millions of people who liked Rocky. (Pause for pet peeve: please don’t call the first movie Rocky I. There are no such titles as Rocky I or Jaws I or Godfather, Part I. These original films do not have numbers attached to them. Referring to them this way only furthers the implication that they are somehow connected with their [usually inferior] sequels. But it ain’t necessarily so.) I even thought Rocky II was okay. Not good, but professional if unimaginative in the plodding exercise of following the original’s formula.

But Rocky III is the worst: scenes—and sometimes even shots within scenes—are not connected by any kind of logic, in terms of space and sometimes in terms of plot. The movie has a dead, flat look as though a series of paintings (by LeRoy Neiman) had been hung and photographed. (In the last shot of the film—after an amazingly limp finish—that is exactly what happens.) I’m not really a boxing aficionado, but I know enough to see that the fights are ridiculously staged; one guy hits steadily for a couple of rounds, then the tide turns abruptly and the other guy has the next few minutes—I mean, Sylvester Stallone has it so carefully arranged not to confuse the audience about whether or not they should boo or cheer, he has one guy unable to land a single punch while the fight is going against him.

If the boxing is bad, the story is nonexistent, and the regular crew of actors is required to go through their usual Rocky mannerisms: Burt Young shambles, Burgess Meredith growls, and Talia Shire carries on with what must be the wimpiest characterization in talking pictures. The new cast member—Mr. T as Clubber Lang, Rocky Balboa’s major challenger—can’t really act, but he is pretty scary. Hovering over it all is writer-director-star Stallone, who seems more bizarrely physically overdeveloped in this Rocky. I think he’s done a bad job this time out, but a lot of people seem to disagree. So Rocky may still be a box-office champion, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s really not even a contendah.

First published in The Informer, July 1982

“Bizarrely physically overdeveloped”? I had no idea what was coming in Rocky IV or Rambo—Clubber Lang, all is forgiven. This movie looks innocent by comparison. As lousy as the sequels are, they did get to people; when Rocky Balboa came out, the movie became a surprise hit and generated a lot of online comments about how important these films had been to kids growing up and seeing the Rockys with their dads over the years. More ritual than movie, then: and the formulaic nature of the films becomes part of the point.