Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Rocky III.”
The Movie: “Rocky III”
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Mr. T
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) After winning the ultimate title and being the world champion, Rocky falls into a hole and finds himself picked up by a former enemy.
Froemming: It is the end of July, and that means Sports Month here at the JOE-DOWN is coming to an end. And what better way to sign-off on it than by revisiting a franchise we have reviewed before, from great to the greatest it has to offer, with our punch-drunk friend Rocky Balboa.
We watched “Rocky III: Let’s Turn a Franchise Into a Cartoon” this week, and boy, after not watching this since I was a little kid, I realized this movie paved the way for what came next — Paulie’s sex robot, non-stop haymakers and winning the Cold War.
Brown, as I pity you for being a fool, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: My first thought: As someone who went to a high school with Tigers as the mascot, I’d be OK with never hearing Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” ever again.
So I love “Rocky” movies. The first two movies were quality films where an underdog comes up from nothing to the most prized title in boxing. Then “Rocky IV” saw this former muscle for a loan shark singlehandedly ending the Cold War. “Rocky V” didn’t happen.
And then there’s “Rocky III,” which exists in a weird middle ground where Sylvester Stallone made his signature character into a “Fast and the Furious” superhero. But, it’s not as bonkers as “Rocky IV.”
While I get ready to run on the beach, you get us started, Froemming.
Froemming: I sure hope the camera zooms in creepily on our crotches as we run on that beach, Brown.
It is 1981, and Rocky Balboa has been champ for six years, after he took down Apollo Creed, and he is reaping the benefits of being a famous boxer. Fame, fortune, posting bail for Paulie after he drunkenly smashed a Rocky-themed pinball machine, you know — everything.
Brown: For the record, I would pay any amount of money for a “Rocky” pinball machine. Can we use that ad money we get for this blog to get one?!
Froemming: We can’t splurge that $.15 like that!
So the movie starts of with *checks notes* a montage. (REDACTED) Stallone and his montages. A montage that walks us through his post-Creed fights, with Mr. T watching and seething in the crowds, because Mr. T can spot a fool from a mile, and he has all of his pity reserves saved for one man: Rocky Balboa.
Brown: Again showing how this movie is kind of a middle-ground flick, there’s only, what two, three montages? It’s nowhere as egregious with the montages as “Rocky IV,” which was half the (REDACTED) movie. I’m OK with this, although there’s no “Hearts on Fire” in this flick.
Rocky is plowing through the competition, though none of the boxers he’s defended the title against seem to be on Clubber Lang’s level. Dude is mowing down schlubs like prime Mike Tyson.
And while Clubber becomes the No. 1 contender, Rocky is partaking in perhaps the most surreal moment in any “Rocky” movie: the charity match with Thunderlips, played by a pre-bald spot Hulk Hogan.
I felt uncomfortable with Thunderlips constantly calling Rocky a meatball, considering, you know, how much ethnic and racial slurs have gotten Hulk Hogan in trouble in recent years.
Just watch this insanity.
Froemming: He already took down Gawker for talking about this. Let’s move on before his lawyer’s Google alerts gets us sued.
Brown: Let me just bring up one question. Why is Clubber Lang at the wrestling match in a full-on tuxedo? I’ve been to many wrestling shows. I’m a big fan. But every wrestling show I’ve been to is just a bunch of heavy-breathing dudes wearing black shirts like it’s a Megadeth concert.
Froemming: You’re a little too young to remember, but there was a moment in the WWF where Mr. T would show up. I don’t remember if he wrestled or not, or maybe this was all a fever dream of mine, but this is probably phase one of Vince McMahon’s goal of world domination. Phase one: Combine wrestling and “The A-Team.”
Brown: Umm, Mr. T main evented Wrestlemania I with Hulk Hogan to face “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff and JOE-DOWN favorite Rowdy Roddy Piper. And in Wrestlemania II, Piper had a boxing match with Mr. T.
And apparently Mr. T was a pain in the ass.
Froemming: Have I ever called you a nerd? Because you’re a nerd.
Anyway, after Thunderlips (perhaps the most nauseating wrestling name I have ever heard, sounds like a porno actor’s name) goes through his roid-rage and throwing the Italian Stallion around the ring, he is all smiles during the photo-op.
Brown, how upset were you when at the end of the movie, Rocky basically steals Hogan’s “going-crazy-with-rage-now-I’m-unstoppable” schtick?
Brown: I was more amazed seeing Hogan use more than a big boot and a leg drop. That’s the most work I’ve ever seen the man put into an actual wrestling match. Plus, he was brawling in the crowd and you just don’t see that stuff anymore.
Honestly, I would have loved if Hogan were more like Thunderlips and less like the jingoistic hot dog-skinned weirdo that cheated ALL THE TIME Hogan ended up being. And no, I’m not talking about his marriage there.
Froemming: It was this scene and the fact that in these movies, there is a candy bar called the Rocky Crunch Punch that tipped me off that perhaps the franchise was heading in a newer, stranger direction.
And it is here we see that Rocky’s manager, Mickey, has heart issues. I mean, these days we get all sorts of warnings that wrestling events and roller coasters are dangerous for old people and folks with heart conditions, but this was 1981 (the year I was born) and if someone died of a heart attack on Space Mountain, it was chalked up to not smoking enough cigarettes.
The health industry was basically Dr. Spaceman from “30 Rock” when I was born.
Brown: Speaking of health, Rocky appears to put his at the forefront and decides, in front of God, the city of Philadelphia and the statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that he is going to retire from boxing.
Before I move on, I will always appreciate the irony of a movie prop being in front of an art museum. If this statue was from the first two “Rocky” movies, I could accept it. But not any one after those.
Anyhow, Rocky announces his retirement but is greeted by an incensed Clubber Lang, who (rightfully) wants his title shot against the vaunted champ. Clubber is playing the old hits: He’s dissing Rocky’s manhood, he calls Rocky a paper champion and he tells Adrian to come be with a real man. Dude is pretty much the archetype for famed pro wrestler/linguist Scott Steiner.
Despite the protests from Mickey, Rocky is gonna take the fight against the upstart Lang.
Froemming: Mickey don’t want no part of that. Mickey is also fond of double-negatives. He’s a complicated man.
Mickey tells Rock he is done. He is retiring. He’s too old for this (REDACTED), a sentiment shared by Roger Murtaugh in the “Lethal Weapon” movies. He also has a confession: He has been selecting fighters for Rocky that he knows he can beat. After nearly dying (twice I guess) fighting Creed, Mickey wanted Rocky to survive and live life.
He stacked the deck for Rocky. Clubber was right, Rocky has been fighting punks and fools of which he seriously has pity for.
Brown: In Mick’s mind, the worst thing that could happen, well, happened: Rocky got domesticated. He’s not the hungry fighter he was in pursuit of the championship. And that’s what Clubber Lang is. But, Rocky really wants this fight, so here we are.
And instead of the old days of training in a dingy gym surely filled with asbestos, they’re in a modern building with a bubble machine a dude playing mandolin and Frank Stallone singing.
Naturally, Mick is not OK with this. No one should be OK with Frank Stallone singing anywhere.
In juxtaposition that I really enjoy, Clubber is training in what looks like Buffalo Bill’s basement from “Silence of the Lambs.”
Froemming: This was Exhibit C for me of the franchise going off the rails. Rocky’s gym is a circus, one that almost rivals Jack’s Wild Wacky Golf course from “Caddyshack 2.” I watched this on Prime, which gives me nuggets of info on the movies I am watching. Stallone put elements of his own life into these movies and this one was dealing with fame. I like the idea that Stallone’s home gym had a live classical band, fans and circus people roaming around for no good reason.
This should also have been the red flag that Stallone was heading off the deep end.
After all this ridiculous-looking training, Mick tells Rocky he is proud of him, so you know Burgess Meredith is going to eat it in the next 10 minutes.
Brown: Oh yeah, he’s bowing out. It’s telegraphed WAY hard.
It’s fight night and Rocky just thinks this is going to be a cakewalk. Meanwhile, Clubber Lang is threatening reporters. One of them actually told Clubber (a black man) to “dance for us,” so yeah, Clubber has every right to assault these people.
As the fighters are about to walk out, Clubber trash talks in the hallway, starting a scuffle before they’re even in the ring. And amid this hubbub, Mick is clutching his chest yet again.
Like, what caused this? I get the stress of the situation but this feels too sudden.
Froemming: Clubber killed him to death by yelling loudly in every direction like he is Nic Cage or something. Frankly, if Mr. T yelled at me, I’d probably have a heart attack too. I’d prefer to pick apples with him, not get on his bad side.
Brown: Are you suggesting Mr. T is Sindel from “Mortal Kombat?”
Froemming: Pretty much, only Sindel’s hair isn’t as weird.
So now we get to Exhibit P of where this franchise went off the rails, with the Rocky vs Clubber fight. In the previous two films, the fights were brutal, but felt grounded in reality a bit.
Here, they just come out swinging haymakers and not blocking, dodging or evading the others’ punches. If this was the first Rocky movie ever made, I would be convinced Stallone had never seen a boxing match in his entire life. It’s nuts. Both should be suffering from traumatic brain injury after this.
Brown: You’re not wrong about how unrealistic this is. However, after wasting money on Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, which was a defensive slog, I DEFINITELY prefer this.
Rocky, he gets the (REDACTED) beat out of him in two rounds and Clubber Lang is the new world heavyweight champion.
Rocky is upset, but he’s quick to get back to the locker room to check on Mick, who has refused to go to the hospital until Rocky can be there with him. So, you know, he’s an idiot.
Now, for a movie that treads into the absurd part of this franchise, the last moments of Rocky and Mick is still a touching scene. Even when Stallone is screaming incoherently, it fits the character. Despite actually learning how to act in commercials, Rocky is still a punch-drunk dullard.
This is probably the last bit of objectively good acting in this series until, I dunno, Rocky’s speech to his son from “Rocky Balboa?”
Froemming: This moment is followed by Mick’s funeral, where Rocky says a prayer in Yiddish, which I am sorry, cracked me the (REDACTED) up. Stallone’s accent did this no favors as he is clearly struggling to pronounce these words.
Now we have the former champion suffering from the blues. He visits Mick’s old gym and — I swear, it is eerie we are following up a Robert Stack movie with this — Apollo Creed appears out of the smoky shadows sporting a trench coat and is one step away from informing Rocky that if he, or someone he knows, has any information regarding an unsolved mystery, they should alert the authorities right away.
Brown: Is it just me, or does Mick seem like the Frank Reynolds type that’d just tell Rocky to throw him in the trash when he dies? I got that vibe.
Anyhow, Apollo has an idea: He wants to train Rocky for the rematch. He knows that empty feeling athletes get when they leave the limelight and it’s not quite on their terms. Plus, he (rightfully) sees dollar signs in a rematch. But, he needs Rocky to get that hunger back. Rocky needs the “Eye of the Tiger.”
*Sigh* OK, let’s put the song in here and just get it over with.
Froemming: We could do a whole JOE-DOWN on just this video. Like, why is the one member of the band wearing a sports coat and the rest have leather jackets?
Brown: I’d be all for “JOE-DOWN: Music Video Edition” if we can review Guns n’ Roses’ “November Rain” and Megadeth’s “Sweating Bullets.”
Froemming: We went through a bottle of Jack Daniels last time we reviewed Guns ‘n Roses. Let’s just skip this whole idea.
Brown: As an aside, I can’t hear “Eye of the Tiger” song without laughing anymore. Because my old roommate met founding Survivor guitarist Jim Peterik and tried to convince the band to kick my roommate out of said band. And, Peterik motioned to a piano and said “That’s THE piano.” So, Jim Peterik seems like a not-so-swell guy.
Froemming: I don’t think there is even a piano in the song “Eye of the Tiger.”
Brown: There’s definitely a piano in there. Listen when the lyrics come into play.
Getting back on track, the rematch is on and Apollo decides to take Rocky, Adrian and Paulie to California to train.
And who is singing when everyone arrives in California?
You guessed it: Frank Stallone.
I will never tire of that story.
And holy (REDACTED) is Paulie racist in this movie when they go to LA to train. I get Paulie is a tough character and whatnot, but throwing out racist nonsense to the annoyance of Creed and the blood boiling rage of the people training at his gym felt just pointless. It just made me hate a man who would eventually find true love in the form of a robot that toured with James Brown.
Brown: Yeah, when Paulie refers to “Eye of the Tiger” as “jungle junk”… Good lord, Paulie.
To keep up with slightly less offensive racism, the key to Rocky’s training is to teach his rhythm. Uggggghhhhhh.
But, Rocky’s heart just isn’t into it. He’s not making much progress. He’s half-assing his sparring sessions with Apollo. And in probably the most iconic scenes of this movie, Rocky is haunted while he’s doing beach sprints in tiny shorts and knee-high socks with Apollo.
You know what would boost Rocky’s spirits, Apollo? A hearty stew!
Froemming: And like Tobias, I think Rocky will want his money back here.
Rocky is down, watching the amazing pro-shot of his match with Clubber that somehow got all these amazing closeups and transition shots, though it is in black and white so it is obviously not the footage we saw in the actual film.
And on the beach, after some odd zoom-in choices on Rocky and Apollo’s crotches, we are reminded that Adrian (his wife) is actually in the movie. She had so few lines until this moment that I assumed she wasn’t even in the (REDACTED) thing. But she gives Rocky an inspiring speech about how everyone is afraid and he should stop being such a whiney little snot about everything.
Brown: This is Talia Shire’s best moment in any of the Rocky movies, in my opinion.
The first movie, thanks to Paulie being a jerk, she seems submissive to the point of Maggie Gyllenhall in “Secretary.” The second movie, she’s the emotional focal point when she nearly dies, but she is low-key. This is the first time Adrian really pushes Rocky in a way that actually feels like a married couple.
This manages to pull Rocky out of his funk and now, time for another training montage!
These things never get old. And, this features the jumping-in-the-ocean bit that I’m shocked and kind of sad that you and I have never done, Froemming. Are we actually friends?
Froemming: When you come to Fargo, we will recreate it at the YMCA pool if you want.
Brown: I want! I want!
Froemming: You’ll owe me a favor. I will awkwardly bring it up until it is time, then we will get in the boxing ring and snark, in private, about “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Ring the bell, friend.
Anyhoo, Rocky is now ready, down to 191 pounds — which IMDB told me is cruiserweight, but the rules say they could (at the time) box heavyweight fighters, so that was a thing I learned.
And for the fight, Apollo lends Rocky his American flag boxing shorts, which I sure hope he washed beforehand. It is a passing-of-the-torch sort of thing, one legend to another. I still think it is pretty gross.
During the press conference or whatever leading up, Clubber says he doesn’t hate Rocky, only that he pities that fool.
Brown: And in the walk-up to the fight, the most jarring moment came when Clubber makes his way to the ring. Some random white dude jumps in front of the champ and yells “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM” before security hauls him away.
Go back to where you came from. To a black person. What a disgusting thing to say back then. No white person in 2019 would dare say something so blatantly racist to a person of color!
Froemming: After President Trump’s Secretary of Tolerance and Understanding yells that at Clubber, we get the fight of Rocky’s life, until the next time. And the time after that.
Rocky going in is the underdog, despite being champion for six years. And he and Clubber once again just storm at one another throwing haymakers and the logic of defense goes right out the window for this franchise until “Creed” came along.
Brown: Well, Rocky spent weeks learning to essentially fight like Apollo, using a jab frequently and using his elusiveness to stay away from Clubber’s haymakers.
Then Clubber hits a couple and Rocky throws months of strategy out the window for, what, the ability to break Clubber’s spirit like he’s Homer Simpson pushing away an exhausted fighter?
Plus, any referee worth their salt would have called the fight in the second round. Rocky gets knocked down twice and is CLEARLY not defending himself. It’s the job of the ref to protect the fighters from themselves and Rocky isn’t even putting his hands up at this point.
Clubber Lang should still be the champion and that referee should be fired for needlessly putting Rocky’s life in danger.
But nope, we have to shoehorn in a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope into this movie.
Froemming: Don’t worry, Rocky will do the same thing as the corner man in the next movie, which ends up killing Apollo Creed. Also, the rope-a-dope of Ali’s seemed more effective than Rocky’s, which is basically a lazy version of this that allows him to not block punches to the head.
But the strategy works, as Clubber begins to wear himself out. I mean, Rocky is too — thus defeating the whole purpose of a rope-a-dope, but the fine print has never been Stallone’s strong suit.
Eventually Rocky knocks Clubber down and wins the fight. The victory moment doesn’t feel earned at all. I secretly was rooting for Clubber because of how whiny and insufferable Rocky was in this movie. The villain in Clubber Lang didn’t land or connect because we have no idea why he hates Rocky or anything. He is just there, yelling so loud he gave an old man a heart attack.
This movie was not as good as I remembered it.
Brown, let’s cut these gloves off and head down to recommendations!
Brown: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…
Don’t forget that after becoming a two-time champion, Apollo calls in his favor. They fight one more time, in the gym, for the rubber match. The first punch is thrown and we go to credits. And we never find out who won the final bout. Until “Creed.”
So, now, you wanna ring the bell and go to recommendations, Froemming?
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Look, this far from the best Rocky movie (that would be “Rocky IV” and I will fight anyone who says otherwise) and it is not the worst. It’s just an “eh” movie for this series of movies. Check it out, but don;t have the highest of expectations.
Brown: Yes. This isn’t as good a movie as the first two “Rocky” films or “Creed.” But it’s infinitely entertaining and that’s what I want from the movies I watch.