Believe it or not, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is a rousing return to the once-dead Rocky franchise and a return to form for the director/writer/star after years of critical and box-office failures. A decade and a half after the events of Rocky V, Balboa is now an aging, lonely restaurateur, still grieving over the death of wife Adrian (the circumstances of which, curiously, are never fully explained to us). Meanwhile, current heavyweight champ Mason ‘The Line´ Dixon (played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver) has annihilated all opponents and ostracized boxing fans. An ESPN ‘virtual fight´ between the two, matching opponents from different eras, picks Balboa as the winner. Seeing this, Rocky believes he still has something “left in the basement”, along with personal demons to exercise, and decides to make a kind of comeback, re-applying for a boxing license. When Dixon´s promoters learn of this, they conspire to concoct an ‘exhibition´ match between the two.
What follows is a perfect footnote to the Rocky films, and, unlikely as it may seem, one of the more realistic sports movies ever made; only an overuse of quick-cut flashbacks during the final fight detracts. Though imperfectly assembled by Stallone (the first half of the film seems to drag on, while the second half feels rushed), the film has an undeniable charm that tugs at our nostalgia, and includes a barrage of references to previous films in the series. Film is overly sentimental, but you can´t help but feel something during the traditional training montage (set to a jazzy version of ‘Eye of the Tiger´) and the climatic fight. And despite the usual ‘Rocky´ formula, the film´s greatest strength is its omission of the Hollywood clichés that overwhelmed the more recent sequels; Dixon is a realistic, well-rounded antagonist, and the final fight is all the more affecting because of this. Not only a fitting end to the series, but also one of its best films.
Though director Todd Phillip´s previous films (Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch) are far from classics, they at least provided a few laughs and some likable characters. His latest, School for Scoundrels, provides neither. Jon Heder stars as an inadequate, unlucky meter maid who enrolls in a confidence-building class taught by a sleazy Billy Bob Thornton; as Heder begins to succeed in the class, a bizarre competition is forged between him and Thornton´s ‘Dr. P´. Maddeningly dull, with nary a chuckle to be found – but this could be somewhat forgivable if not for the inexplicable decision to cast Napoleon Dynamite as a romantic lead. In no way, shape, or form do we want this demented oddball to get together with Jacinda Barrett; scenes between the two of them are squirm-inducing. An almost unrecognizable Ben Stiller shows up late in an unfunny cameo. Remake of the 1960 UK film School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!, itself based on Stephen Potter´s novel of the same name; Phillip´s version is only an embarrassment to both. Half a star for Billy Bob´s effortless used-car salesman charisma.
Also opening this weekend is Clint Eastwood´s Oscar-winning Letters from Iwo Jima (showtimes | IMDb). The film tells the tale of the famed WWII battle between US and Japanese forces at the island of Iwo Jima, with the distinction of being filmed through the perspective of Japanese soldiers. Note: film is mostly in Japanese and will be subtitled in Czech on Prague screens.
Tip: the One World festival takes place until March 8 at cinemas Lucerna, Světozor, Ponrepo, Evald, Perštýn, and the City Library, showing documentary films pertaining to human rights. Many films will either be in English or have English subtitles. More info: www.jedensvet.cz