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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Creed 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

CreedDirector: Ryan Coogler
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson

You gotta hand it to Sylvester Stallone. About fifteen years ago, I figured his career had been left for dead. Somehow with his revision of Rambo, his clout to get studios to make those Expendable movies, and his relentless drive to revitalize an old, punch-drunk boxer, he's gotten into Hollywood's good graces once again. Heck, back in the day I used to quip, "Sly who?"

Anyway, unless you've been living on a desert island via the last four decades, you'll know that Creed (my latest review) is indeed the 7th film in the storied, Rocky saga. Everyone in character Rocky Balboa's life, is gone. That includes his spouse Adrian, his brother-in-law Paulie, his trainer Mickey, and his old boxing rival Apollo. But hey, nothing can stop Stallone and company from milking every bit of the Italian Stallion's account till it runs bone dry. That's why he brought in director Ryan Coogler (he did Fruitvale Station) along with his budding movie star, Michael B. Jordan (he was the lead in Fruitvale Station). Translation: This is yet a bland Rocky entry but a mature, valiant effort. It's on par with Rocky Balboa (2006), it's a lot better than Rocky V (I'd hope so), and it has moments that are deeper and more subdued than Rocky IV ("I must break you" ha ha). Somewhere somehow though, I can still hear the late Burgess Meredith saying, "I'm going on a permanent vacation". Rocky being an Irwin Winkler-produced franchise with its obligatory training sequences and its obligatory final fights, should probably just do the same.

Containing a film score that feels less compelling this time around (probably because Bill Conti wasn't at the helm) and featuring sound effects inhibiting a hammer slamming into a cookie sheet, Creed delves into Apollo's illegitimate son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). Adonis never knew his deceased dad but subconsciously, he always had the need to fight, to punch someone with plenty of lefts and rights. At the beginning of the proceedings, he's a teenager, serving time in a Los Angeles youth facility. When Apollo's actual widow shows up to take him in, Adonis goes with her, finally knowing who his father is and eventually finding out what he wants to do with his life. Cut to 2015 and he's winning fights in Mexico while working at a securities firm on the side. He eventually quits his job, moves to the fighting city of Philadelphia, and seeks out a man who had a long history with his pops. That would be Mr. Rocky Balboa. After some resistance from wanting to train the youthful Adonis, old Rocco caves in knowing that this youngin wants to be the light heavyweight champion of the world. "Baby" Creed in time, wins one big fight and then somehow gets a title shot in Liverpool, England. It's all far-fetched stuff but then again, so is the grizzled adage, "it's only a movie".

Now the main asset in Creed, is how its story translates easily from the events in the previous Philadelphia slugger installments. It would make sense that Rocky would now be too old to fight. It would make sense that Rocky still ran a restaurant and was open to training a young buck. It would make sense that Apollo Creed's son would come knocking on Rocky's door salivating for sparring advice. Finally, it would make sense that Rocky would go back to grieve Adrian and Paulie at their respective grave sites (for reasons unknown, the Paulie Pennino character kicks the bucket circa 2012). My biggest misstep involving this flick however, is how the lead troupers (mainly Michael B. Jordan and romantic interest Tessa Thompson) fail to meet the demands of selling Creed's most considerable and most substantial scenes. Basically, they turn it into something that lacks the dramatic heft of the earlier movies and the entertainment value/popcorn feel of Rocky III and Rocky IV. What's left is a slow-burning affair, a vehicle that goes through the motions and renders itself vapid. As the end credits rolled, all I wanted to do was revisit Mr. T's portrayal in 1982, Rocky and Apollo's second Superfight in 1979, and Philly's favorite son hitting the proverbial meat back in 76'. It's all in the (collection addition) DVD set and it comes pretty cheap at Best Buy. My overall rating: 2 and a half stars.

Of note: There's been talk about Stallone possibly getting an Academy Award nomination for his work in Creed. I'll admit, he knows the character well and occasionally, has some heartfelt moments. But Oscar? Come on. In all seriousness it seems like a bit of a stretch don't you think?

Written by Jesse Burleson

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