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COVER STORY

Still Trying to Get It Right

Sylvester Stallone Is Making Movies Again, and Attempting to Make Peace With Male Pattern Badness

October 08, 2000|PAUL LIEBERMAN | Times staff writer Paul Lieberman last wrote for the magazine on mediumJames Van Praagh

When you see that Sylvester Stallone is making movies these days about lost souls seeking redemption, the temptation is to interpret it in the most immediate terms, thinking how much he may need that himself--redemption--after a decade in which many in Hollywood danced on his professional grave. In 1990, as he was trying to make a go of "Rocky V," you could hear one of those anonymous voices from inside the biz predict that the man was "looking at a downhill slide that may not be salvageable." And that was when he still had his pick of $20-million roles. By 1997, when he was willing to work for scale on "Cop Land" in a bid to escape his flex-grunt-and-shoot image, another voice from the studios put it more bluntly and cruelly, "Face it, it's over. Next." * You also might surmise that he is seeking redemption in his personal life, at 54, after all those years going through statuesque actresses and models, scandals and lawsuits (EX-SERVANTS SEEK $1.5 MIL! CLAIM NO EYE CONTACT ALLOWED!). You don't have to take the tabloids' word for some of this stuff--his confession is offered up in the daily rushes of the movie he is filming here in Canada about car racing. Stallone plays an aging driver who left his best races "on the sheets of strange hotel rooms." His own term for this kind of acting out--and he wrote the script in more ways than one--is "male pattern badness." His mother Jackie calls it "zipperitis." * But those are narrow, short-term takes on Stallone's preoccupation with redemption. That was his theme, after all, from the moment he emerged out of nowhere--it soon will be 25 years--with a script he wouldn't sell to no one, nohow, unless they let him, a nobody, play Rocky Balboa. Before his fighter took on the Russians and wrestlers and John Wayne's nephew, he was a "large wound" of a man who needed redemption from nothing less than a wasted life. He didn't even need to win the fight in the first "Rocky." A moral victory--being upright at the end--was enough. That and the love of a good woman. * It was the same with his Vietnam vet, Rambo, who helped launch the genre of Alpha Dog One-Man-Army movies, as Stallone dubs them. Before the mumbling fellow became a cartoon character taking on the North Vietnamese and Russian militaries, single-handedly trying to redeem a failed American war effort, he too needed a more basic redemption, from self-destruction. * "Maybe people have one topic they stay with. That's the one I've never gotten bored with," Stallone says today, witnessing the release of "Get Carter," his first movie in three years, while also filming "Driven," the first movie in a decade made from one of his own scripts.

In "Get Carter," out this weekend, he plays a Vegas hood given a chance to set things right when his brother is murdered. In "Driven," his over-the-hill driver is given another chance to prove himself on the track.

"There's no one over 30 who doesn't ask, 'What if?' " Stallone says. "There's this horrible sinking feeling, 'Maybe I married the wrong woman.' 'I did this at the wrong time.' 'I didn't listen to that advice.'

"Hey, I'm getting the ultimate fantasy in everyone's life, to go back to that crossroads and go left rather than right."

He's talking about his characters, of course.

*

"OKAAAAY, ACTION DADDY! DADDY, TALK!"

As the high-pitched voice squeals over the loudspeaker, ponytailed Sophia Rose Stallone gets a pat on the head from Renny Harlin, the Finnish director who has been whispering in her ear, feeding the lines guiding her father to begin a night of filming in front of Toronto's city hall. Papa Stallone hoists the 4-year-old within kiss-kiss range, and smooches her sister, Sistine, 2. Then they're off with their nanny, headed back to the hotel to meet mom, model Jennifer Flavin, before beddy-bye.

On with the business at hand: a scene with Luc, the lady reporter who hopes to expose racing as the "last bastion of male dominance" but discovers the soft heart of Joe Tanto, the driver played by Stallone. She elicits his admission of Male Pattern Badness and ferrets out how he had an ex-wife who was "outwardly outgoing," sleeping around on him.

"Every story needs a loser character, right?" he says.

No, she says, his life has been "colorful."

"Like a bruise," he says.

And Stallone is in heaven.

On this crisp August night, he's being the family man amid the fantasyland of moviemaking. Words he scribbled on a yellow legal pad are being played out on a plaza that will be transformed, on film, into Tokyo. Locals gather to get a glimpse, or an autograph, or to call "Hey, Rocky!" He gets to talk, too.

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