Friday, January 25, 2008


RAMBO (Sylvester Stallone, 2008)

RAMBO muscles its way into theaters twenty years after Sylvester Stallone's last screen appearance as cinema's killing-est, flashbacking-est Vietnam veteran. John Rambo is now biding his time capturing snakes for a roadside attraction in rural Thailand, but it doesn't take long before he's back firing his compound bow into bad guys' eyes.

Christian missionaries from Colorado come to Rambo seeking his help in going up the river into Burma. They want to provide assistance to the Karen rebels engaged in a civil war with the Burmese army. At first he declines, but Sarah (Julie Benz), the lone female, eventually persuades him to pilot them.

An encounter with pirates doesn't deter the noble volunteers, so they forge ahead. Rambo safely delivers them to their destination, but it comes as no surprise when he receives word that the village where they were providing relief has been slaughtered. The aid workers are believed to be alive and held hostage by the military. Rambo is again employed to take some people into Burma on his boat, only this time a group of mercenaries sent to rescue his first passengers is on board.

In 2006 Stallone resurrected Rocky Balboa. As writer-director-star for RAMBO, he attempts to do the same for his 80s action hero. It's a different assignment, though. Stallone plays a character dealing with his mortality as Rocky. He occupies an ageless archetype seemingly impervious to death as Rambo. Stallone still has the physique to pull off both an aging boxer and one man army, but the former is a lot more interesting to watch than the latter.

Highly indebted to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for its visual style in presenting combat, RAMBO is a passable action movie. The story is stripped to the basics, leaving plenty of room for the good guys, Rambo in particular, to turn the villains into something resembling the contents of a butcher's display case. RAMBO fulfills all promises when it comes to presenting carnage for the sake of it. Heads explode as easily as dropped water balloons, and mines transform their victims into a fine, bright red mist.

There's something distasteful, though, in how RAMBO uses the real life conflict in Burma to satisfy the audience's bloodlust. The film probably raises awareness of the southeastern Asian country's decades-long violence for many, but to what end does it aspire? It's unlikely that viewer response will be a letter-writing campaign to politicians about these atrocities. Lingering memories will most likely be the awesomeness of the variety of ways the Burmese soldiers are killed, not how awful that the army is doing what the film shows. (Also, I don't think you can attribute the pleasure taken in the screen revenge as wish fulfillment since the situation may be news to most seeing the film.)

Stallone opens RAMBO with news footage that graphically depicts the savagery the military unleashes upon the freedom fighters. To turn that into the background for escapist entertainment doesn't sit quite right. Qualms about RAMBO'S contextual appropriateness aside, this guns-ablazing movie works on a primal level, but stiff performances and a musty script has it firing its share of blanks too.

Grade: C+

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