Written by / 12/21/2015 / No comments / , , , , ,

SLY STALLONE RETURNS IN ROCKY II

year: 1979
It seems like the last person who gets credit for the original ROCKY is director John G. Advilson. Well he did win the Academy Award, but throughout the years, John got more cult film fan bitterness than mainstream praise for beating Martin Scorsese for his dark masterpiece, TAXI DRIVER, and Sylvester Stallone's brilliant script, providing an ensemble of characters of almost equal importance surrounding the central Southpaw, and his beyond-natural performance were both nominated but, alas, didn't win... yet it's still one of the best scripts ever written, and perhaps the story and the star make us forget there was a director at all.

Which brings us to ROCKY II, where Stallone still had his wider, more natural looking facial "baby fat" and unpolished muscles as opposed to the chiseled, veiny, hungry look of the third film (and thereafter). As far as direction goes, Stallone himself stepped up to the plate, doing a sort of mellower imitation of Avildson, at least in a visual sense. And going back, in selling the original ROCKY script, Sly had to decline offers until given the leading role (he was a complete no-name at this point). Imagining a Ryan O'Neal type as ROCKY is like picturing Warren Beatty as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER... and in many vehicles there are near-catastrophic almost-casts that would have ruined what turned out being cinematic perfection... Sure, the first ROCKY had particular scenes that went on too long, but overall it's a bonafide masterpiece of the boxing/sport genre within a sparse, gritty atmosphere where the main character is his surroundings, and doesn't just exist there.

Weathers and Stallone
So in this first sequel of the franchise, after catching an establishing glimpse of the original bout where Rocky loses to Apollo while forever winning-over his beloved lady, ROCKY II, unlike many sequels, starts off directly after the original: there's a smooth funky variation of the main theme as an ambulance carries the two fighters we experienced in 1976 to a hospital in (proverbially) 1979... All looking the same except Burt Young's Paulie lost a tremendous amount of weight, literally overnight (Rocky even points it out). Although Young's scene-stealing capabilities that made him a star in the original and peaked in the third venture is more peripheral here, leaving the character-actor chops to Stallone himself; his suddenly famous brawler spends cash too fast and fails at successfully sustaining his 15-minutes of fame (that hot rod and tiger jacket are damn cool though), and eventually works cleaning-up the same gym that helped catapult him into almost becoming the World Heavyweight Champion.

Sparse Teaser Poster
Some of the best scenes occur when Rocky tries to get lines right for an aftershave commercial, and, realizing he can't work behind a desk at a typical 9 to 5 setting, he packs the same meat he once famously beat upon in training for Newsreel footage.

One of the main drawbacks of part 2 is Yo Adrian herself, not only a new wife but an extreme bulwark ("Rock Blocker") to the story of a beloved brawling underdog who we know will end up in a walloping rematch with the extremely bitter, sore-winning champ Apollo Creed, which takes too long to happen while Adrian bickers with Rocky the whole way through. She'd rather lie around teaching him to read Louis L'Amour than letting her caged beast bust skulls to make something out of his other than being a passive, manual working husband. Then, when the training finally gets underway with a once again initially reluctant Mickey, a genuine tragedy occurs concerning the birth of Adrian's child, making for an overlong and extremely boring hospital-set mid-section resulting in, finally, after Rocky gets enough advice to move ahead, Bill Conti's glorious upbeat score blares as "The Italian Stallion" continues his training, at one point chasing a chicken for exercise ("I feel like a Kentucky Fried Idiot" is one of the best lines ever), and he ultimately runs down the Philly streets, this time followed by a bunch of kids up the famous stairway.

Written by Stallone as Rocky
The directing style, like the first film and unlike the third, is more or less an artistic, grainy endeavor: our hero now trying to rise above his urban reality as, in this particular case, the actors take a little while before seeming truly involved with each other or the storyline, which intentionally fumbles around to discover meaning and purpose, like the main character himself. For example, Burgess Meredith's awkward dialogue after Rocky's wedding seems like he walked onto the set following a long nap, and overall, there's a kind of improvisational-workshop vibe... this often happens when young actors direct their own films, and it's not always a bad thing: spontaneity is great as long as the story flows along with it...

And ROCKY II has a good enough script and yet, perhaps if Advilson, the man also behind classic character-driven projects like JOE and SAVE THE TIGER, returned to direct, the sequel might have flowed beyond the clunky, offbeat rhythm that occurs more than randomly throughout. Leading to the big fight, again intensely choreographed by Stallone himself: GOING THE DISTANCE is actually a better tune than GONNA FLY NOW, playing in a steady, pulse-like manner during the epic heart-pounding 15-round battle of giants... Yet some editing would have helped sharpen this flawed yet entertaining yarn that, unlike the mainstream ROCKY films to come, for better or worse, were created specifically for what an audience paid to see rather than what Stallone wanted to show them.

RATING: ***1/2
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