"Time to put some hustle behind this muscle!"Rocky IV won over fans through sheer silliness; it's impossible to hate, even if it's terrible. No one likes Rocky V (1990), Sylvester Stallone's ill-fated effort to return the series to its roots. Melodramatic and mean-spirited, it goes out of its way to alienate Rocky devotees.
Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) returns from Russia determined to retire. Ivan Drago's fight left him brain-damaged, and he loses money through a sleazy accountant. Rocky moves back into the old neighborhood, taking over Mickey's old gym. He connects with Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison), an up-and-coming boxer, and trains him to perfection - to the chagrin of Rocky's son Robert (Sage Stallone). Tommy defects to George Duke (Richard Gant), a sleazy promoter who promises him the world.
Bringing back original director John G. Avildsen and the South Philly locations (and even Burgess Meredith, in cameo), Rocky V wants to be a bittersweet bookend. Early scenes are passable; it's hard not to empathize with Rocky forced into retirement and losing his fortune. Less engaging are the formulaic family scenes, with Talia Shire yelling in exasperation while Robert grows into an earring-sporting punk. Sage Stallone isn't a bad actor, but his challenging the school bully and arguing with Dad come straight from the Afterschool Special playbook. Which doesn't bode well for adults.
This makes Rocky V just another bad sequel. The final twenty minutes destroy it. Unsatisfied with his title, Tommy calls out Rocky in public, then punches out Paulie. The two have a down-and-dirty street fight, with barflies and hoboes cheering them on. Are Avildsen and Stallone bemoaning how far Rocky, street tough-turned-world champion, has fallen? Not with Bill Conti's score trilling heroically as ever. Did Stallone really consider Rocky brawling in an alley a triumphant finale?
Rocky V did decent box office, but turned off fans and aggravated critics. Even Stallone all but disowned the film. Rocky Balboa laid dormant for sixteen years, returning with a delayed epilogue that sought to undo the fifth film's damage.