Thanks to my friend Greg Kuppinger, who had the nerve to tell me Rocky IV was on TV, I spent too much of this evening in front of the television, too little writing my book.
Recognizing this isn’t unchartered territory, Rocky IV might be the worst beloved movie of all time. There are actually people (ahem, the wife) who consider IV the best of the six Rocky flicks. Which is akin to ranking Silver Spoons as The Rickster’s finest hour.
In short, Rocky IV is shit. Liquid shit. I just watched the final 15 minutes, so let’s stick to that frame. First off, no way Rocky Balboa fights in communist Russia in the mid-1980s and wins over the crowd. No. Chance. In. Hell. While wearing American flag shorts, no less. Uh-uh. Not possible.
Second, if Rocky and Drago are the world’s two best heavyweights, how come neither man knows how to block a punch? Seriously, many the filmmakes could have at least given a nod to defense. Because all the fight scenes are is one landed blow after another after another after another. Both pugilists last 15 rounds while landing 100 percent of their shots.
Third, I love how—after three previous installments—the producers and directors no longer have any idea what to do with Talia Shire at the end of the film. She was best served in the original Rocky, when Balboa greets her after the most bloody bout of his life with, “Where’s your hat?” (a genuinely brilliant line). But how many hats can a chick lose? At IV’s conclusion, she’s just there, smiling sorta blankly.
Which, of course, isn’t as bad as Tony Burton, aka “Duke”—the cornerman Rocky inherits from Apollo Creed. In Rocky III, Apollo and Duke keep repeating “Eye of the Tiger! Eye of the Tiger!” because in RockyWorld mantras win fights. Now, with Apollo in Boxer Heaven, we need a new slogan. So Duke keeps saying “No pain! No pain! No pain!”—even as the Rock is a bloodied pile of puss and sweat. Is Burton a good actor? We’ll never know.
It’s been 25 years since Rocky IV hit theatres, so my memory’s a bit foggy. But I believe I was genuinely disappointed—13-years old and longing for Clubber Lang to kick some ass. Drago was, by comparison, a dull foil—a stereotypical unemotional Russian brute who snarled and glared.
Plus, who wants to sit through that five-minute James Brown solo?
PS: Almost forgot the “If I can change, you can change …” speech. I mean, dear God. First, you just fought 15 rounds sans defense. You could barely stand. And now, five minutes later, you’re JFK? Second, the fake Gorbachev—sans head spot—standing and applauding. Third, wait, I just vomited my cereal.