A Rocky Road

A Rocky Road
Sylvester Stallone is in training for another comeback
BY MARK CARO for the Chicago Tribune
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas — Sylvester Stallone is climbing back into the ring, figuratively in “Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over” and literally in a sixth “Rocky” movie.

Yes, he has already written “Rocky VI,” which he’s calling “Puncher’s Chance,” the title referring to the idea that once in the ring, any fighter has a chance to land a knockout punch. Stallone — with “Spy Kids 3-D” the only one of his last four movies to actually make it to theaters — is looking for that shot as well.

Rocky made his moment when he’s 29 years old,” a fit-looking Stallone, who turned 57 on July 6, said while in Austin for the “Spy Kids” premiere. “Now time has moved on, but how do you participate when your options are pretty limited? It’s not as though he’s a painter or a world traveler. He is a fixture in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is decaying. Do you decay with it? And when you try to fight back, (you’re told), ‘It’s ludicrous. Come on! Move on! Don’t be so vain.’

“It’s not about vanity,” he continued, his familiar gravelly voice turning soft. “It’s about, ‘I know I don’t feel as though I’ve hit the bottom. I haven’t dredged the bottom of my well yet, I don’t think.’ There’s a point when you sit back on your life, and you’re on your final days going, ‘You know? I did it all.’ And I don’t know if I’ve done it all. The character.”

These last two words were said as a reminder that he was talking about Rocky, not himself.

But he knows he can’t escape the parallels. Like his most famous character, Stallone has gone from top-of-the-world star to afterthought — a $20 million-per-movie action hero whose most recent efforts have bombed (“Get Carter,” “Driven,” the latter of which he wrote) or, worse yet, haven’t even received a U.S. theatrical release (“D-Tox,” also known as “Eye See You,” “Avenging Angelo,” “Shade”).

“Spy Kids 3-D,” which opened Friday, at least will get him in front of large audiences again. He plays the comical villain, the Toymaker, who has designed a video game that ultimately imprisons the minds of its players. The character’s goofiness manifests itself in multiple personalities that argue with one another: a bald, professor type, a blustery European military commander (Stallone refers to him as “Gooselini”) and a stringy-haired hippie. For good measure, Stallone also plays a TV reporter.

Like most of the movie, his scenes were shot in front of green screens so that computerized scenery and special effects could be added later. Aside from a climactic confrontation with Ricardo Montalban, who plays the Spy Kids‘ wheelchair-bound grandpa, Stallone is mostly acting with himself.

How did he feel about acting without other actors? “I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years,” he quipped, laughing.

Stallone‘s sense of humor may not be one of his better-known traits, but it’s the key reason “Spy Kids 3-D” director Robert Rodriguez said he cast him.

Stallone compared working with a green screen to “being held face down in a bowl of guacamole for three weeks” (though his part took just five days to shoot).

“Yeah, it’s strange. It’s like working without a net.”

Yet “Spy Kids 3-D” feels like a safe move compared with what Stallone has planned. First up is a ripped-from-the-headlines crime drama called “Thugz Life” (formerly “Rampart Scandal”) that Stallone has written and is preparing to direct in his first stint behind the camera since 1985’s “Rocky IV.” He’ll also star as real-life Los Angeles police detective Russell Poole, whose career crashed as he tried to get to the bottom of the Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls murders.

Then there’s “Puncher’s Chance,” which continues Stallone‘s exploration of counted-out guys who keep forging ahead.

He admits he goofed in giving Rocky brain damage in “Rocky V,” which ended with Rocky brawling with his ungrateful protege on the street rather than in the ring.

“It was a big mistake on my part because nobody wants to see the dark, depressing underbelly of a character they’ve had joy with,” Stallone said.

So Rocky will return to the ring for movie No. 6.

Craig Zablo

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