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I planned to open this review with the comment "Any movie that begins with Sylvester Stallone crooning his throat raw over the (seriously endless) opening credits is a movie that's just begging to be ridiculed," but I figured that would be too obvious. Yes, Sly sings, folks, which is something you don't normally hear outside a movie called Rhinestone ... and if you've never heard of that movie, do us all a favor and keep it that way.
Hot off the stunning successes of the original Rocky, Stallone clearly had his pick of non-sequel projects. He penned the screenplay for (and starred in) the unionization drama F.I.S.T, which had the benefit of a director like Norman Jewison at the helm. Clearly under the influence of an ego-assisted haze of chutzpah, Sly decided that he'd both write and direct his next film, the 1940's-era wrestling drama Paradise Alley. Producers seemed confident that this project would recapture some of Rocky's crowd-pleasing formula. They were wrong. Following the generally dismissed release of Paradise Alley, Stallone's subsequent movies were the soccer flick Victory, and, inevitably, Rocky 2.
Paradise Alley is a clumsy and confused affair. At times it offers broad doses of humor at moments where some thoughtfulness would have fared better; it showcases characters who switch personalities at the drop of a hat; and it features writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone at his most jittery and annoyingly verbose. Sly has more lines in the first half of Paradise Alley than he does in all three Rambo movies - and if you've ever experienced the anguish that comes with trying to watch Sly emote, then you already know that Paradise Alley is most likely not an animal you should choose to tackle.
The setting is Hell's Kitchen, New York, in the 1940s. Cosmo, Lenny, and Victor are a trio of sad-sack siblings just barely scraping by on their limited wits. Lenny works in a coroner's office, Victor hauls ice, and Cosmo is just an aimless galoot who makes his money however he can. But when the sweet & slow-witted Victor proves to be a truly tough tangler within the wrestling ring, Lenny and Cosmo see a way to make some "real" green.
As Lenny, Armand Assante turns from the smart and conscientious brother into a mustache-twirling money-grubber without missing a beat, while Cosmo (Stallone) begins the story as an opportunistic lug who (instantly and without provocation) turns into a nattering nag of a trainer. And Victor (so named because he wins in the ring, get it?) is just a big beaming dummy who does whatever he's told. It all comes to a head in one of the more ridiculous sports-flicks finales I've ever seen: two hulking brutes throw each other across a wrestling ring ... in the rain ... in slow-motion ... for about 12 solid minutes.
Say what you will about Sylvester Stallone's middling skills as a thespian, but compared to his directorial talents - the guy's an absolute Olivier. Scenes go nowhere, and they go there slowly. Dialogue scenes shift from close-up to two-shot to ... wherever, with no sense of rhythm, rhyme or reason. Basically, Paradise Alley is a grade-A example of vanity-piece filmmaking of the most blatant style. Were anyone other than "the guy behind Rocky" to come up with this screenplay, he'd most likely be laughed out of Hollywood. But if a producer did give the script a chance, there's no way Stallone would have made it through shooting day 5 of his directorial debut.
Equal parts unintentionally hilarious, unbearably earnest, and shamelessly derivative (particularly in the big wrestling finale), Paradise Alley is one of Sly's most bizarre and misshapen efforts. But it's not even nearly among his worst. This is a guy, don't forget, who wrote Cobra, directed Staying Alive, and starred in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Video: A Widescreen Anamorphic transfer that's not particularly sterling, but it gets the job done serviceably enough. The "blue fuzzies" come out to play in most of the nighttime scenes, but overall it looks as good as a forgotten little 1978 cheeseball should.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which doesn't do a whole lot to decipher Sly's ceaselessly hyperactive yammering, but it's good enough, all things considered.
Extras: Nothing. No trailers, no captions, heck, there's not even a menu screen!
If you're a wrestling fan or a devotee of The Sly, then you probably already like Paradise Alley due to sheer nostalgia value. Those those (few) fans I could offer a half-hearted recommendation of this DVD, mainly because it's the only release it's ever going to get. Personally I found the "serious" parts outrageously funny and the "action" bits endlessly boring. Aside from Assante's strong performance and the fairly non-stop barrage of bad filmmaking, there's not much here that's worth watching.