By CHRISTY LEMIRE, AP Movie Critic
"Rocky Balboa," the sixth (and hopefully last) installment in the underdog saga of the Italian Stallion, straddles the line between nostalgia and self-parody and frequently teeters toward the latter.
Returning to his roots, Sylvester Stallone writes, directs and stars once again as the iconic title character, who long ago retired from boxing and now has carved out a quiet life as a South Philly celebrity and restaurant owner. He mourns the loss of his beloved Adrian, who died of cancer, and still hangs out with her loudmouth brother, Paulie (Burt Young). ( Talia Shire appears in flashbacks at moments that ostensibly were meant to be inspiring, but instead just feel clunky.)
No one thinks he should do it - not his son, Robert Jr. ( Milo Ventimiglia ), who's bitter about the burden of having famous blood run through his veins, and certainly not the media, who have a ball bashing Rocky before he even sets foot in the ring.
And there is a certain allure to the ritual of revisiting the character, a comfort in the familiarity. He's mellowed a bit now as he wanders about town, incapable of walking down the street without being approached for an autograph, yet he continues to spew those overly simplistic Rockyisms in that rumble of a voice that sounds like he's gargling with marbles. ("You know, you learn a lot talking to dogs" is among the funniest.)
But then when the inevitable training montage begins, to the swelling strains of "Gonna Fly Now," it's all so hard to take seriously after all this time. He does everything you expect to see him do - he lifts hulking metal chains and kegs of beer, jabs and hooks those giant slabs of meat, before running triumphantly up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art - and does it all with heart.
But let's be honest: Was anyone (besides Stallone) really curious to see how Rocky might turn out at age 60? He is in massively muscular, fabulous shape - truly a specimen to behold at any age - and maybe that's the point after all.
Back in 1976, it all seemed so inspiring; the original "Rocky" was a small gem that became the surprise best-picture Oscar winner. In 2006, though, "Rocky Balboa" merely feels like a shameless vanity project.
G - General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.