Much-maligned but sporadically effective, Rocky V opens almost immediately after the events of its predecessor and finds Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa forced to retire as a result of the brain damage sustained during his fight with Ivan Drago. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Rocky’s fortune has been almost entirely wiped out due to Paulie’s (Burt Young) incompetence – forcing the Italian Stallion and his family to move back to the streets of Philadelphia. The bulk of the movie follows Rocky’s efforts to train a promising up-and-comer named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison), an endeavor that backfires when Tommy signs with the sleazy, Don King-esque promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Gant). Rocky V is easily the most uneven of all the Rocky sequels, as screenwriter Stallone places the emphasis on several overly melodramatic subplots (the whole Rocky’s-son-feels-neglected storyline is undoubtedly an ideal example of this). That said, there’s plenty here worth embracing – including the return of Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, who pops up in a surprisingly touching flashback – and one can’t help but admire Stallone’s decision to almost completely eschew the series’ well-established formula in favor of a far more melancholic vibe. And although the movie does start to peter out in its second half, there’s certainly no denying the effectiveness of the brutal street fight that closes the film.
**1/2 out of ****