American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The "Rocky" series is finally losing its legs. It's been a long run, one hit movie after another, but "Rocky IV" is a last gasp, a film so predictable that viewing it is like watching one of those old sitcoms where the characters never change and the same situations turn up again and again. Even Sylvester Stallone seems to be getting tired of the series; as the writer and director, as well as the star, he puts himself through the same old paces.
The movie begins with footage from Rocky's big fight with Mr. T. Then we meet Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a 6-foot-4, 261-pound Russian fighting machine. Then it's time for a quick roll call of all the regular characters who pop up in every installment. There's a bizarre birthday party for Paulie (Burt Young), Rocky's brother-in-law, who gets a robot for his present (the robot, by the way, can understand statements and respond spontaneously, suggesting that Rocky's suppliers have licked the problem of artificial intelligence). Maybe Paulie needs the robot for company; he has apparently made no friends during nine years as the champ's in-law, and only three people attend his party.
There's the obligatory romantic scene between Rocky and his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), who seem to have lost all passion during nine years of marriage, and are content to be worshippers at the shrine of their ideal love. There's a walk-on for Rocky Jr., a couple of scenes with old pal Apollo Creed, and then it's time for the big fight scenes and the final freeze-frame.
It's tempting to forget how good the original "Rocky" was, back in 1976. It was a fresh, wonderful film, and we met some real people - quirky, lovable characters - on the way to the final fight scene. Rocky Balboa had a distinctive way of expressing himself, a love of colorful language that set him apart from the cliches of his characters. The people around him were genuine originals.