When Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar back in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was, much like his alter ego, an unlikely contender. He then continually tested the goodwill of audiences with some regrettable choices (Rhinestone? Rocky V?) and fell out of favor. So it makes sense that the box-office underdog would choose his defining role for a hat-in-hand comeback. As the former heavyweight again vies to be the lord of the ring against faster, younger competition, fact and fiction blur: Can the 60-year-old champ(s) once again go the distance?
Regardless, you know what’s in store the second the lights go down. Goaded out of retirement for an exhibition round against the current It fighter (Tarver), Balboa is told to rely on “brute force.” Which is exactly what Stallone does, unleashing greatest-hits moments like H-bombs: Cue Bill Conti’s instantly recognizable theme, commence training montage and start pounding that meat! The actor-director doles out the expected treats in pat populist doses, but that doesn’t make this attempt at milking punch-drunk love from the past exciting, just numbingly predictable. The ol’ lug can’t be blamed for wanting one last victory lap, but if you’ve got nothing to offer except benign nostalgia, just let the gloves stay on the glory-days shelf. (Opens Wed 20; Click here for venues.) — David Fear