'Rocky' Back and Reborn Christian

Sylvester Stallone opened his sixth and final underdog story, "Rocky Balboa," in theaters Wednesday. Some hope for the series ending, others call it the surprise of the season, and evangelicals are pleasantly surprised.

An "unexpected pair: God and 'Rocky' Stallone," the San Francisco Chronicle called it. But the new film, directed and acted by Stallone, intentionally talks about God.

"Who wouldda thunk?" Rocky would say.

"We need the God-fearing script, the script that really deals with compassion and deals with the word of Jesus and God, and believe me, people will rally behind it because we need it," Stallone said in a late November conference call to Christian leaders, according to the Chronicle. "It's like, you watch some of the films, they only save these kinds of films for Christmas."

In the weeks leading up to the nationwide release, Stallone has been in conference calls with religious leaders to promote his new film.

Previous Rocky scripts focused on the punches, but this final installment provides more insight to his character, a character that was meant to reflect the nature of Jesus, according to Stallone.

“He’s very, very forgiving," said Stallone in the conference call, according to the Baptist Press. "There’s no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. And it’s like his whole life was about service.”

The synopsis: Former heavyweight champion Rocky is coping with grief over the death of his wife, Adrian. He's retired but after a virtual boxing match declares Rocky Balboa the victor over the current champion Mason "The Line" Dixon, the fighter's passion is reignited. Rocky steps out of retirement and back into the ring against a new rival in a different era.

USA Today said the film is "about the quintessential American trait and cinematic tradition of cheering for the underdog. Balboa has evolved into the ultimate underdog: a lonely guy who has known suffering and is facing his mortality."

But the story doesn't stop there. It's about redemption – the redemption of not only Rocky but Stallone himself.

Stallone was raised in a Catholic home and went to Catholic schools. He made some wrong turns and bad choices when he got out into the "real world," he said in the conference call, but he's recently been going through a change in his life.

"The more I go to church," he said, "and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."

In Rocky terms, Stallone said, "The church is the gym of the soul," alluding to the need to be guided and trained by someone else.

Promoting the new film to the faith and values crowd, Stallone even has a website (www.rockyresources.com) full of resources for teaching, preaching and outreach opportunities.

In regards to the box office, "Rocky Balboa" was the top-selling film on Fandango, which sells tickets online for AMC Loews, Regal Entertainment Group and other theaters, on Tuesday, a day before its nationwide release. And Hollywood Reporter online columnist Martin Grove expects it to be "one of the box-office champions this weekend."