Rocky's back, and this time he's pensionable! Well, not quite, but he is old. The question is, does he still got what it takes? The answer is "yes and no".

Unfortunately, by going for a more realistic treatment, this sixth Rocky fails to deliver what could have been an American classic.

Two big themes have underpinned the best Rockys in the series: the reluctant warrior and resurrection. Rocky must be reluctant to fight, and Rocky must perform some sort of absurd comeback before winning in the end.

This time Rocky is fairly happy to fight, so the audience never gets that "you've got to do it, Rocky, otherwise the communists will take over the world ('Rocky IV')!" feeling.

As for coming back from the dead, well, of the two fights in the film, one is a limp, CGI generated affair which has virtually no dramatic value.

The other, an exhibition fight, comes at the end. It's distinctly moderate and just doesn't have the gripping absurdity of old. Rocky is never so far 'down' that we get to feel a guilty, childlike elation when he gets up and starts fighting again.

A related problem is that 'Rocky Balboa' stays in its 'setup' phase for far too long, which leaves the ending feeling rushed as well as emotionally flat. There is a distinct surplus of underdeveloped relationships going on, all of which are meant to add depth but none of which follows a satisfying or complete course.

Instead of plumping for four or five underdone subplots, writer-director Stallone would have done better to have given a proper treatment to two strong ones. The way things are it feels as though each of the supporting characters had key scenes left on the cutting room floor.

It all adds up to a surfeit of soap opera-style drama that drains the impact of the bold changes in momentum that are needed for films like this to work.

To be fair, 'Rocky Balboa' is by no means all bad - it's just disappointing. In fact, Rocky himself is in better shape than ever. Bumbling ramshackle charm has always been a strong suit of Stallone's acting and he's still got it.

His scenes with new love interest Marie (Hughes) are classic. Like Rocky's best fights, his ponderous expressions of 'deep thought' are still so long and unlikely in their course that you can't help but cheer them on toward the end.

Also present and correct are the tremendous one liners and objectionable but somehow slightly charming ethnic stereotyping that peppered the earlier films (Maitre D': "Sir, do you have a reservation?" Paulie: "Do I look like an Indian?!")

This sort of thing shouldn't work but it does, in the same way that your granny's suspicious attitude towards all things new fangled is funny but eye roll inducing at the same time.

Maybe Stallone needed Mickey to take him aside and say: "HEY ROCK, time to get back to basics. All this audience wants is some flimsy premises and a montage, followed by you losing to and then beating the falafel out of some unlikely caricature!"

But Mickey's dead, and we're left with a movie that could have been a contender.

Weighed down by half baked efforts at character drama and lacking the overblown epic power of the earlier films, 'Rocky Balboa' ultimately fails to connect.

Brendan Cole