We’ve all experienced this during the coming attractions: Hollywood puts forth a dramatic, inspiring pitch for an upcoming production, and everybody laughs. That’s happened with the trailer for “Rocky Balboa,” the sixth installment in the franchise after a 16-year absence.
And the film has been battered with derision and peppered with punch lines even before it hits theaters Wednesday.
That hasn’t blind-sided the film’s 60-year-old star, however.
“I understand, I do. I totally get it. They’re going to have that polarization,” Sylvester Stallone says. “My hope is that people that have screened it have enjoyed it and say, ‘You know what? It’s not as bad as you think.’ ”
Stallone’s comeback bid is part of a larger trend of aging stars revisiting dormant franchises. Sharon Stone, 48, earlier this year again crossed her legs for “Basic Instinct 2,” 14 years after the original. Harrison Ford, 64, wants to make another “Indiana Jones.” Bruce Willis, 51, thinks he can “Die Hard” again. Back in 1983, Sean Connery had moderate success returning to 007 in “Never Say Never Again.” But Stallone, who’s also hoping to revive “Rambo,” is playing a role particularly revealing of the aging process. Even in 1990’s much-disliked “Rocky V,” the fighter was presented as over-the-hill.
It is, though, a story often replayed in the boxing ring. George Foreman’s comeback attempts extended until 2004 (when Foreman was 55), but that attempt didn’t make it past training.
THE REAL UNDERDOG
In “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky comes out of retirement after a televised virtual simulation shows he could beat the current champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver).
“It sounds like something somebody said as a joke at a pitch meeting and people wrote it down,” says Mark Lisanti, editor of the L.A. gossip blog Defamer.com. The site has repeatedly poked fun at the new “Rocky” film — as have a number of late-night talk show hosts and comedians.
“It’s hard for it not to look desperate,” Lisanti adds.
Stallone, who also wrote and directed the film, has repeatedly said he wanted to make “Rocky Balboa” to erase the bad taste left by the dark “Rocky V” and conclude the franchise on his terms.
Stallone’s comeback clearly mirrors the underdog story of an aged Rocky.
“There are a lot of examples of life imitating art and vice versa in this project,” says Perry Stahman, president of domestic theatrical marketing for MGM. “The one thing we didn’t want to do was we didn’t want to run away from it. He brought that to the movie. He’s very aware of what people are saying and thinking.”
“Now more than ever, this is truly an underdog story,” Stahman adds.
Any cynical response to the prospect of Rocky’s return to the ring has been combated with a robust marketing campaign, which is trying to regain its distribution footing after being acquired by Sony last year.
The trailer for “Rocky Balboa” addresses some of the movie’s real-life circumstances.
“People are going to think you’re going crazy,” Rocky’s son (Milo Ventimiglia) says.
“What’s crazy about standing toe and toe and saying, ‘I am’?” replies Rocky.
Posted by MGM on YouTube, the trailer has been viewed by more than 1.7 million people and received a rating of four stars out of five.
Such a reaction hints at high anticipation for “Rocky Balboa” — even if a good helping of the comments site demeans it.
MGM also has aggressively marketed the film through sports outlets like ESPN and Web sites such as eBay. But has the studio convinced people that the new “Rocky” isn’t laughable?
David Poland, who runs the movie industry blog Movie-CityNews.com, doesn’t expect it to reach $30 million on the opening weekend.
But a box-office number approaching that figure would probably please MGM (since the movie’s budget has been estimated at just $25 million).
“I think between what will be not very good reviews, a skeptical crowd with a lot of movies they can go see in December, teenagers who have no idea what Rocky is — it’s going to be very hard to get this one rolling with any kind of velocity,” Poland says.