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Forever the underdog

A sixth 'Rocky' already is the butt of jokes, but producers are betting it can be a winner.

November 26, 2005|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Reporter: "Rocky, the press has labeled you a 'Balboasauras' who should be in a museum. With all the 'ring rust,' how do you think you'll hold up against the champ?"

Rocky: "Well, ya really don't know much about nobody until ya lend 'em money or punch 'em hard."

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YES, as implausible as it might seem, Rocky Balboa is back for Round 6. Though the script certainly doesn't dance around the fact that the Italian Stallion is stepping back into the ring in his twilight years, Sylvester Stallone's decision to get back into the ring has become the fodder for countless jokes.

David Letterman's "Top Ten List" was among the first to take dead aim: "Constantly says 'Yo, Adrian, got my Lipitor?' " went one zinger. "After tapping hands with other fighter, says, 'Not so hard!' " went another. A writer quipped in the Miami Herald: "Historians are calling it irrefutable proof that mankind has officially run out of good ideas." And one Internet message board posed the question: "Shouldn't Rocky have massive brain damage by now from getting hit in the head way too much just like Ali?"

Enough with the "Rocky" jokes already, complained Joe Roth, who heads Revolution Studios, which along with Sony Pictures and its new banner, MGM, is producing the new Rocky picture. "You can't turn on television without someone making fun of it," he said. "Jokes like, 'Who's he going to fight, Alan Alda?' Or, 'Who's he going to fight, an HMO?' ... It's very easy to be cynical."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 29, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
"Rocky" -- An article in Saturday's Calendar section about Sylvester Stallone's next film project, "Rocky Balboa," misspelled the first name of boxer Jermain Taylor as Jermaine.

Roth said he expected the announcement to trigger some humor, but added: "I'm surprised at the vehemence [toward the new Rocky project]. I don't want to believe people can be that nasty. They should reserve judgment, frankly, at least, until they read the script."

The script for "Rocky Balboa" has the over-the-hill Balboa taking on the reigning heavyweight boxing champ Mason "The Line" Dixon. Both men are trying to restore their dignity: Dixon because he's reviled by fight fans for taking on unproven opponents; Rocky because its been years since the aging boxer from South Philly has climbed into a ring

The film, with Stallone as star and director, begins principal photography Dec. 3 at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas. The cameras will be recording crowd scenes that night at the real-life Bernard Hopkins-Jermaine Taylor middleweight title rematch for use in the movie.

It's the sixth installment in the landmark "Rocky" franchise. The original, released in 1976, won three Academy Awards, including best picture, and touched an emotional chord with moviegoers worldwide for its heroic tale of the small-time Philadelphia boxer who tries to prove he can go the distance with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

But in the intervening years, the "Rocky" sequels -- "Rocky V" premiered 15 years ago -- like Stallone himself, have see-sawed in box office popularity until now both are seen as icons of a bygone era.

Stallone stunned the world last month with the announcement that not only would he make "Rocky Balboa," but, at age 59, he also would reprise his role as former Vietnam vet and one-man army John J. Rambo in "Rambo IV," which is scheduled to begin production sometime in the spring.

Roth said that from a financial standpoint, "Rocky Balboa" makes perfect sense. The production budget on the 38-day shoot is projected to be $24 million -- less than half what the average studio film costs these days. And though Stallone's North American box office appeal may have tanked in recent years with a string of forgettable films such as "Shade," "Driven" and "Get Carter," the actor continues to have strong audience appeal overseas, as does the character of Rocky.

Certainly in the early years, the franchise was lucrative. The original "Rocky" grossed $117.2 million domestically, with "Rocky II" grossing $85.2 million, "Rocky III" $125 million and "Rocky IV" $127.9 million. But by 1990, the onetime champ was on the ropes as "Rocky V's" domestic gross dropped to $41 million.

"It's interesting how Rocky and Sylvester have been so inextricably connected over the years," said Robert Chartoff, who, with Irwin Winkler, produced all the previous Rocky movies. "People see him as Rocky, to some extent.

"We are very aware that it has been many years since 'Rocky' was made," added Chartoff, who, along with Winkler and Stallone, will serve as executive producer on the new film. "There is going to be a new audience seeing it. Our criterion in making this film is to have it stand on its own. It has qualities to be a wonderful motion picture just because of what it is, not just because it's a sequel to 'Rocky.' "

Revolution says there are plans for a special DVD collection next year to mark the 30th anniversary of "Rocky," which should help boost awareness of "Rocky Balboa," currently scheduled for release during the President's Day holiday in 2007.

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