Rambo Review

In Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone surprised a lot of people—including myself—with a swan song to his most critically acclaimed character. Writing and directing himself, he distilled the element that made the first Rocky a great movie, threw away the caricature that he had become, and delivered a movie that—pardon the pun—packs a punch. So you have to wonder why with Rambo, he did the exact opposite. No wonder he got the opposite result.

In Rambo, Stallone amplifies the caricature of Rambo the one-man army. Rather than going back to the complexity of Rambo’s character and the calculated action scenes in First Blood, he instead tries to outdo Rambo’s imitators by being as showy and explosive as possible. It doesn’t just ramp up the body count; it also jacks up the gore quota. The final 30 minutes of this movie is just one exploding head after another as Rambo mows down an entire honest-to-gosh army with a turret. It’s absolute hilarity all around, because not only is the copious amount of gore ridiculously funny, but there are also plenty of cheesy bombast.

Imagine a bad guy standing in the foreground, when out of nowhere Rambo slowly rises behind him accompanied by a sudden explosion of music, looking angry and badass. Not just badass—80s badass.

Funnier still is the moral perpetrated by the film. In Rambo, John Rambo is on exile in Thailand, still angry at the world. When Christian aid workers try to get him to help them cross to Burma, Rambo is reluctantly moved by the pacifist ways of Sarah (Julie Benz), a member of the Church. “You can’t change the world. Go home,” Rambo mumbles (at times unintelligibly) more than once to her, to which she always replies with a heartfelt plea about spreading love and care instead of violence. Of course, the group is soon captured by vicious Burmese soldiers, forcing Rambo to take action—right after a black-and-white flashback montage showing Rambo’s most tortured moments from Rambo I-III—and lead a band of mercenaries in a rescue mission. Before long, the Christian workers learn the valuable lesson that non-violence is for victims, and if you want to solve the world’s problems, you gotta rip some guy’s goddamn throat off with your bare hands. One of the Church members, predictably, goes through a revelatory transformation and beats a bad guy to death with a rock. Knowing is half the battle.

You have to wonder if this was intentionally gaudy—because it is so blatantly and unapologetically campy—but Stallone doesn’t want you to laugh. He wants you to sit up and listen. As with past Rambo films, the film takes its conflict from real world issues. If Rambo III had him fighting Reds alongside the Mujahadeen, this time around he’s saving the Burmese people from its junta regime. Stallone makes his seriousness clear by opening the film with upsetting documentary footage of the country’s ongoing genocide, showing burning monks, dead children, and headless bodies… Fade to black… Fade in the word “RAMBO”. It would be disturbing if it weren’t so inane.

While the film has its share of kicks, it holds little action sparks. Its most energetic scenes are of villagers being massacred and of Rambo returning the favor to the responsible party for a rah-rah finale. For the most part, Rambo is just an endless stream of severed limbs, with not much imaginative action or the improvised guerilla tactics that he’s supposed to be an expert at. It all boils down to Rambo with a big honkin’ pig and a long ammo belt on his hands. The climax is not unlike that scene from Hot Shots: Part Deux where Charlie Sheen gets a scoreboard as he terminates an entire enemy camp.

Really, the only thing that’s missing from this movie is Stallone getting his shirtless bod oiled up. Maybe in Rambo V: Rambo vs the Entire Middle East Plus a Few African Regions for Good Measure.

"Rambo" opens January 25, 2008 and is rated R. Action. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Written by Art Monterastelli, David Morrell (characters). Starring Sylvester Stallone, James Brolin, Kim Dickens, Bruno Campos, Matthew Marsden.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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