When Mr. T took on Sylvester Stallone as Clubber Lang in "Rocky III," he sneeringly told reporters that his prediction for the fight was, "Pain!" Ironically, that's just about everyone's prediction for "Rocky VI" -- and like Mr. T, I pity the fool.
Stallone announced last week that he'll begin filming in December, nearly 30 years after the original "Rocky" came out of nowhere to beat "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver" as the Academy Award's best picture of 1976.
It's hard to tell where Stallone -- a 59-year-old sequel machine -- will take the film, dubbed "Rocky Balboa." A decrepit Rocky may now be battling a leaky bladder, at least that's the joke going around Hollywood.
This much is clear: The new movie finds the ex-champ back in Philadelphia, low on cash and lonely after the passing of his wife, Adrian. He takes on a few exhibition bouts, and that somehow snowballs into a media event, with a challenge coming from reigning champ Mason "The Line" Dixon.
"I am drawing on a lot of my feelings that are in sync with many people's feelings about facing the last chapter of their lives and how they want it to be written," says Stallone in a prepared statement.
To be sure, "Rocky IV" has got to be better than "Rocky: The Musical," and that's a project -- no joke -- that Stallone has battled with MGM in recent years to get off the ground.
If all this smells of career desperation, consider that His Royal Slyness has gone from $20-million-a-picture paydays to straight-to-DVD hell. The "So Bad They're Funny" section of your local video store is virtually the only place you'll find "Avenging Angelo," "Shade" and "D-Tox" (originally titled "Eye On You"). Those are Stallone's last three films, if you discount his supporting work as a fiendish toymaker in "Spy Kids: 3D: Game Over."
In another career booster, Stallone is also in pre-production for "Rambo IV." Perhaps someone should remind our favorite addled Vietnam veteran that in "Rambo III" he was aiding the Afghan mujahideen -- a group that counted Osama bin Laden as a member. Let's just assume Mr. Tough Guy has one more reason to feel betrayed and go on a rampage.
It really wasn't supposed to be like this. "Rocky" was never intended to be a film series, and Stallone once actually had serious career aspirations.
"Ain't gonna be no rematch," a blood-soaked Apollo says in the original "Rocky," as he clutches the challenger in the 15th and final round, barely holding up his gloves. "Don't want one," Rocky says, as the final bell rings.
If it all ended there, "Rocky" would truly go down in history as a cinematic phenomenon. And if Stallone had never made another film, he'd have been remembered for greatness and not such stinkers as "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot."
Not only did "Rocky" earn 10 Oscar nominations (and win three), but Stallone became only the third person in Hollywood ever to receive a best actor and best screenwriter nomination in the same year. The other two double nominees were Charles Chaplin for "The Great Dictator" and Orson Welles for "Citizen Kane."