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Rocky goes to the Summit

If Rocky has yet to lose the title of heavyweight boxing champion of the world, "Sly" Stallone has already been severely jabbed by several film critics in America. The all-embracing media rejection of Rocky IV occurred before the film was released to the public. The basis for this universal aversion was that a sequel to Rocky III (and Rocky II, and Rocky) should never have been conceived -- in much the same way that the psychopathic murderer in Friday 13th should have never resuscitated in the following five sequels.

Despite the fact that critics bad-mouthed Rocky IV from the start, after only two days it surpassed White Nights and other recent releases in box office revenues. Stallone, who was offered $15 million by Metro Goldwyn Mayer to write, direct and star in Rocky IV (plus a cut of the total-sales pie) must be doing something right.

This time around the storyline tries to go beyond the trite if not primitive dialectic of the underdog in the land of opportunity, and reach the milieu of superpower politics. Rocky "Italian Stallion" Balboa is to meet his Russian counterpart Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), a machine-like pugilist of unearthly strength and perfect bodily features. I wonder to what extent the Geneva Summit was planned to occur at the same time as the release of Rocky IV.

One thing is for certain: in the ring, Drago and Balboa are able to resolve their differences. It makes you wish Reagan and Gorbachev would do the same.

Rocky, who has been contemplating retirement since his last bout against Mr. T (in Rocky III), is once again driven to the ring, this time for more patriotic reasons: "...a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." His wife Adrian (played by Talia Shire) tries to prevent him from fighting the monstrous Russian, calling attention to his fatherhood and success in life. Rocky's prerogatives transcend his material surroundings so as to give him an air of a volunteer soldier on a suicide mission. Many critics have seen this theme of military patriotism as most offensive in Stallone's latest movie -- a bad mix of Rambo politics and Rocky egotism.

While Stallone has been faulted and ridiculed for his opportunism, no one has cared to mention the circumstances which lead to the final bout; namely the result of the self-glorifyiing, ostentatious and grossly commercial American Show-Biz hullaballoo.

While in Rocky III, Balboa and Stallone, as the filmmaker, fell victims to the American way, in Rocky IV it is Apollo Creed, Rocky's best friend, coach and former opponent (played by Carl Weathers), who is the victim. Early in the film, his elaborate and theatrical derision of the taciturn Drago and his eventual downfall prelude the explosive final match between Balboa and the Russian.

To say more would mean to give the plot away (which in fact some reviewers have done under the belief that this would not spoil the movie), and this I won't do since I feel the film is worth the money.

In what may be the last of a series of autobiographical films, Stallone reveals himself on a personal level, in a similarly candid and genuine way as the original Rocky.

Admittedly, his ideas about politics are somewhat confused and even laughable (at one point even the Russian audience starts cheering for Rocky), but perhaps only because we ourselves don't question enough our own sensitivity and feelings about the Russians, a people we are taught to loathe a-priori.

Lastly, Rocky IV is a must for those out there who are in any way concerned about their physical appearance or Nautilus performance rating. You will probably recognize (and envy) some of your own vanity in the Herculean forms Stallone and Lundgren. In the mandatory cross-cutting sequence from Rocky's to Drago's training we see a melange of the latest high tech exercising apparatus (computer graphics and all!!) contrasted with an awesome series of exercises to perform in polar weather conditions.

(Rumor has it that Dolph Lundgren actually went to MIT as a Chemical Engineering grad student, but then dropped out. I wonder if there are any aspiring little grad students pumping iron right now, wishing that they too could be in a movie where they flexed their muscles.)

Corrado Giambalvo->