Written by / 12/20/2015 / No comments / , , , , , , , , ,

STALLONE TAKES RUSSIA IN ROCKY IV

year: 1985
When Stu Nahan, an ongoing ROCKY franchise sportscaster, has to admit "The Soviet strength is incredible," referring to Dolph Lundgren's bionic Russian fighter, there's an obvious political Cold War (and at this point, very dated) message going on and alas, a few minutes later, Apollo Creed, one of the great all-time cinematic athletic antagonists (turned friendly fellow), is killed in the ring following the type of sell-out training routine Rocky Balboa went through before getting pummeled in the last, far superior venture... only without dying and sans a James Brown (as opposed to a lounge-lizard Frank Stallone) performance.

The first half of ROCKY IV involves completely banal crap like a robot that talks to (and belongs to) Paulie while playing one of many throwaway soundtrack tunes; a miscast son who looks not one bit Italian; and a collage of memories from our heartbroken hero, seeming like an MTV video and repeating scenes just experienced: For once again, Rocky lost a trainer to the Grim Reaper... Only this time, our main man's decision to get back into the ring, for pure revenge this time, is met with very little reluctance, and the movie goes from glossy-vapid to grainy-legit when Rocky trains in the isolated, snowy region of Russia, getting in shape while helping peasants, dodging the KGB and eventually climbing a mountain... an intentionally progressed homage from that famous outdoor staircase back in hometown Philly...

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Thus, Rocky and Drago's opposite training methods are intriguing and highlight the second half... Rocky pulling carts and chopping wood (basically living like a local) while his lethal opponent is practically being oiled (though he does break a sweat) within a million dollar scientific lab of a gymnasium, is a second slice of deja vu, in reverse: again recalling when Rocky lazed around at the casino while Mr. T's Clubber Lang sweated blood in his dingy apartment. This time Rocky's training is primal and tough while corny OVER THE TOP style synthesizer tracks are made up for by the return of Sly's swarthy NIGHTHAWKS beard. And there's a private talk with the underrated Tony Burton, who, as Apollo's former (and Rocky's current) trainer, has been around since the first Oscar Winning classic, and finally has a worthy scene.

As the villain, Dolph is literally the perfect fit for Ivan Drago, and the verbal Bonnie to his silent Clyde is, at that time, Stallone's future heartbreaking girlfriend Brigitte Nielsen. Meanwhile, Burt Young, along for the hellish trip, is a forced comic relief that, while Rocky gets serious in the cold harsh reality, isn't necessary like in the other films. Neither is Adrian, showing up at the last minute when she should have watched from home on TV. But the good parts turn really bad after the big fight, which is actually cool in itself: the 15-round boxing choreography, again fully manned by director Stallone (who staged the action scenes even when John G. Advilsen was behind the lens). But Rocky's awkward "Why don't we all just get along" speech to the Russian people is so hysterical and downright embarrassing, it's best to stop the film right as the crowd cheers Rocky's name instead of Drago's. That's all the triumph you'll need.

RATING: ***
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