It’s an unapologetic 91-minute popcorn flick that contains no less than three music video-styled montages. In a series that was once about an underdog pugilist taking advantage of an opportunity he really didn’t deserve, this fourth entry is far more concerned with simply pleasing its audience.
And I think Paulie fucked a robot.
Wrapped heavily in a blanket of baby oil-soaked propaganda, ROCKY IV (1985) ended up redefining what it meant to be ‘so bad, it’s good’. Riding a wave of over-the-top patriotism, and backed by one of the greatest soundtracks EVER, this movie pulled no punches (my apologies) as it captured the hearts and minds of millions.
Make no mistake, though: This is not a great film. Compared to the original Best Picture Oscar winner, ROCKY IV is a heavily-edited MTV product that replaces character development and drama with ‘Red Fear’ and John Cafferty. From the aforementioned robot to “Living in America” to the (retroactive) brain-damaged speech that ended The Cold War, every aspect of this movie is purposefully outrageous. And, yes, it absolutely works.
[SIDE NOTE: The ROCKY IV soundtrack features, at least, three songs that could instantly replace the national anthem. And, yet, it won the Razzie for “Worst Musical Score.”]
“Throw the damn towel!”
In late-August, Sylvester Stallone took to social media to announce the release of a ‘Director’s Cut’ (in recognition of ROCKY IV’s 35th anniversary). The original cut of the movie ran about an hour longer than the theatrical release — which remains the shortest of the series. Not surprisingly, the removal of this footage is why the gap-filling montages are so prevalent (making up, approximately, a third of the film). The ‘Director’s Cut’ is expected to add more Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) dialogue and extended fight scenes; while eliminating the often-maligned SICO robot.
[Bizarrely, the move to cut out SICO will have financial ramifications because the International Robotics, Inc. creation is a full-fledged member of the Screen Actors Guild (and, therefore, entitled to residuals).]
The secret ingredient here, and the reason why this all works, is Ivan Drago. Originally dismissed as being too tall and slender, the 6’5” Lundgren was the perfect foil to Stallone’s Balboa (quite similar as to how Andre the Giant was Hulk Hogan’s greatest threat). Able to trick American audiences into believing he was Russian, the Swedish actor wisely chose to play Drago as a inexpressive silent-type who lets his punches do all the talking. Even still, Lundgren arguably delivers the two most notable and recognizable lines of the entire franchise — “If he dies, he dies” and “I must break you.”
[In addition to the opening scene of the American and Russian gloves colliding — and that split-second shot of the Russian glove breaking in half before falling to the ground — it’s awfully curious to see how little visible damage Rocky shows compared to his earlier fights against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).]
“You can’t win!”
Talia Shire, the heart and soul of the 1976 classic, is given little to do in this installment. Even for long time fans of the original ROCKY, it might be a little surprising to realize it was actually a love story disguised as a boxing movie. The final scene is of a bloodied and battered fighter who just went the limit with champion Apollo; and Rocky’s only concern in his greatest professional moment is to be with Adrian. Their in-ring declaration of love that drowns out the rest of the world — including the announcement that Creed won a split-decision — is, honestly, one of the most skillfully-crafted moments in movie history.
And, in this one, Adrian is reduced to the ‘hero’s ungrateful nagging wife’ stereotype the ‘80s made famous. It’s a sad waste of both a talented actress and an iconic character (that will, embarrassingly, be topped two movies later). Still not as bad as fucking a robot, though.
Three and a Half out of Five Beers*.
*It’s Five Beers. You know it. I know it.