We often talk about how many an eight-part dramatic limited series or three-part documentary special would have benefited from some judicious editing — how such projects might have delivered a more impactful punch had they been trimmed to a couple of episodes, or a feature-length film.
In the case of the entertaining but relatively superficial Netflix documentary “Sly,” it’s the other way around.
The life and times of Sylvester Stallone, who burst onto the scene nearly a half-century ago and has been a Hollywood icon ever since, certainly could have merited the three-part treatment accorded to Stallone’s one-time rival and now friend Arnold Schwarzenegger just a few months ago on Netflix.
Netflix presents a documentary directed by Thom Zimny. Running time: 95 minutes. No MPAA rating. Available now on Netflix.
Directed in unquestioning, borderline worshipful fashion by Thom Zimny and running for a frustratingly short 1 hour and 35 minutes, “Sly” is at its most fascinating when the 77-year-old Stallone regales us with tales of his hardscrabble childhood in Hell’s Kitchen, his early struggles as an actor and aspiring writer and, of course, the oft-told but still incredible behind-the-scenes story of the making of “Rocky,” and how a broke, out-of-work, unknown Stallone turned down hundreds of thousands for the screenplay, insisting he play the title role himself.
For those of us who fell in love with “Rocky” and have stuck with him, it’s pure documentary gold when Sly recalls how the film was shaped. For example, the budget couldn’t accommodate 300 extras for the ice skating sequence, so Stallone rewrote it that the rink was closed and Rocky had only enough money for a quick 10 minutes’ time with Talia Shire’s Adrian — which made for an instant classic of a scene.
“Sly” builds a framework around Stallone selling his enormous, art-filled, memorabilia-spangled mansion in Beverly Park and moving back East in some sort of existential quest to find his roots. Judging by the numerous shots of Stallone gazing pensively through the floor-to-ceiling windows or leaning against a palm tree, smoking a cigar, while movers carefully wrap pieces of art, including Rocky statues, you’d think Sly was living out his days in some sort of self-imposed isolation. But as we know from the “Family Stallone” reality show and social media posts and countless stories, Stallone has been married for 25 years to Jennifer Flavin and they have three grown daughters.
(Stallone also had two sons, including Seargeoh, who has lived out of the spotlight, and Sage, who played his son in “Rocky V” and who died in 2012 at age 36. In the most personal segment of the documentary, Stallone speaks with candor about how Rocky’s relationship with his son in “Rocky V” mirrored his own failures as a father with Sage.)
Talia Shire and Quentin Tarantino and Frank Stallone and Arnold himself offer some insightful bits of commentary. Stallone talks about how Rambo was initially a psychopath but was shaped into an anti-hero, and acknowledges that his forays into comedy were disastrous. But there’s no mention of the “Creed” franchise, no mention of Stallone’s triumphant work in the Paramount + series “Tulsa King,” no mention of the fact the mega-mansion Sly is leaving was sold to Adele for … checking … $58 million.
In the opening of the film, Stallone says, “Do I have regrets? Hell yeah, I have regrets.” Suggestion for a new addition to the list: regretting that “Sly” didn’t dig deeper and add more context to Stallone’s incredible story.
Maybe they’ll do a follow-up doc. After all, Sylvester Stallone knows a thing or two about sequels.