‘Rambo’ *** Movie Review 012808

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The work = ***
‘Rambo’ (AKA ‘Rambo 4’, ‘John Rambo’, ‘Rambo: In the Serpent’s Eye’ and many other titles) is not as bad as I was worried it would be and I’ll give Stallone credit: he can direct. First, some full discloser: I’ll forgive a lot for well directed action and even if a movie is little but action, as long as it is well done, I’ll take it. Here we have a film that pushes the levels of onscreen carnage about as high as has been done to date. It is not a bad film and if you are up for this sort of thing, an enjoyable one.

If you are not, ‘Rambo’ does nothing to win over tough converts and to be honest I was never that big a fan of the ‘Rambo’ franchise. What we have here with the fourth installment is pure exploitation. What is Stallone exploiting? The situation in Burma as revealed in the opening which shows gruesome news footage of corpses and atrocities. The narration informs us that there is a long running civil war being fought in the country with thousands of innocents caught in the middle. The civil war is so vaguely described that I bet none too many viewers have any idea who the sides are but no matter, Stallone has the pretense of bringing viewer’s attention to the unnoticed atrocities. Maybe the film will do that but what the setting really does is allow for a modern day Wild West in the jungle: a place with no rules and hordes of roving bad guys for Rambo to dispatch.

Speaking of bad guys, how do I know they are “bad”? Well, early on in the film a detachment of soldiers throw a bunch of mines into what appear to be rice fields and then force a group of locals to run through the mine laden fields. Hapless villagers are blown to chunks on their frantic run and those that make it to the finish are rewarded with a swift execution by firing squad. The killing of this group will seem like child’s play by the time the end credits of ‘Rambo’ role. The soldiers are bad and lest you forget Stallone makes sure to show them committing some sort of atrocity or another every 15 - 30 minutes (the leader even sleeps with boys so you’ll really want him to go down.)

There is no denying the ferocity and intensity that Stallone brings to the action. Cinematographer Glen MacPherson films often with what appears to be a wide open shutter giving much of the action a choppy, staccato, look that works. There is an impact to the violence and as I say, if you dig this sort of thing you will not be disappointed. Of course this is done all under the guise of shedding light on the situation in Burma.

Stallone himself has crossed the 60 mark and it is also to his credit that he looks rather imposing in the film. Whether it is all the human growth hormone he says he is taking or something else, Stallone looks like a monster. This works to his benefit as he plays Rambo a bit like Frankenstein’s creation that got away. Twisted and out of synch with the world, he has retreated back to a jungle. Stallone looks the part and wisely lets his physicality do the talking.

Rambo’s monk-like routine is broken when some uppity Christian missionaries arrive looking for a boat ride up river. Rambo turns them down but Sarah, (actress Julie Benz, who is probably most recognizable from TVs ‘Dexter’) the lone female of the missionaries, keeps after the man and he gives in. Soon enough they are all on a happy boat ride up river. Now, I won’t go into too much detail but suffice it to say that before the ride is over Rambo has offed some locals who took a not so nice liking to Sarah. Frankly after a couple of bodies piled up any reasonable person would have politely asked Mr. Rambo to turn the boat around. Sarah however decides a little gunplay is a good sign and insists on continuing the journey.

Rambo drops off the missionaries and returns to his river life. The missionaries do go to the village, get themselves situated and then all hell breaks loose. These must be some high priority missionaries because after they go missing their mission hires a bunch of mercenaries to go get them. Of course the mercenaries come to Burma with everything you would need except a friggin’ boat so Rambo’s services are once again required. What transpires after that I will leave you to discover.

I will say that Stallone pulls off an ultra-violent action film that is stronger than its predecessors in the franchise. There are even some nice touches written in that are somewhat surprising. This time Rambo can’t go it alone and the one man army has some help. So no man is an island no matter how hard he tries and he even finds a human connection that may help save him. Stallone even crafts a conclusion that tips its hat to how the first film began. For me this was a fitting end to the series. Of course not unlike ‘300’ it is all very forced but also like ‘300’ it gets credit for going for the material instead of standing back and trying to justify it.

Does ‘Rambo’ work? It does and better than you might expect. Oh sure it has its problems but the film is a piece of bloody 70s exploitation crossed with the 80’s/ early 90’s action films. Yes, ‘Rambo’ is insanely violent, with limbs flying left and right. Yes, it does bring the trouble in Burma to the spotlight but it really allows Stallone to run wild in a jungle. If you are up for an action film that doesn’t flinch and packs action with a bloody punch, give ‘Rambo’ a try. Stallone writes, directs, and stars in the film and guess what? It isn’t a mess. Recommend to those that dig action.


‘Rambo’ Links:

A website about human rights issues in Burma


My review of '300'

My review of Stallone's flic' 'Cobra'

My review the excellent 70s action/ exploitation film 'Rolling Thunder'

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.