RAMBO - movie review
Posted: Wed, Jan 30 2008 - 23:01 PM
You gotta hand it to Sly Stallone, the big lug knows how to please an audience. This has not always been true -- in the 1990s the guy dropped more bombs than the Air Force -- but now, in his 60s, he has somehow discovered a way to knead our collective nostalgia into audience-pleasing, profit-turning entertainments.
After reviving the long-dead Rocky franchise back in 2006 with his laudable Rocky Balboa (the best entry in the series since the 1976 original), he returns now with an update of his other iconic role: Rambo. That the aging superstar would want to revisit his misunderstood-loner of a Vietnam vet (a relic of the Reagan-era if there ever was one) the same way he did Rocky, is no surprise. That the effort would be so good ... well ... maybe it's not so surprising either (despite what most other critics are saying).
We haven't seen John Rambo in twenty years -- not since he was fighting off the Russians in Afghanistan in 1988's Rambo III. (Stallone wisely chose not to revisit the same territory for his characters return, although who wouldn't want to see our bandanna'd monosyllabic hero track down Bin Laden and filet him with that infamous bowie knife?) Rambo has retired to Thailand, where he spends his days fishing from his boat with bow and arrow, and capturing cobras for snake shows and medical anti-venom. When approached by Christian missionaries who want to charter his boat to go into Burma, Rambo's brief response tells us all we need to know about how lonely and embittered he still is. These medical-missionaries want to change the world. "Fuck the world," is his reply.
And yet, a very persistent woman, sensing his inner-struggle, appeals to John that he must still believe in something. She is right and, against his better judgment, John leads the naive-but-well-intentioned missionaries into a living hell. We also realize John has heard more of her words than he let on when he spouts at a pivotal moment: "Live for nothing, or die for something."
I abhor spoilers, so I will not tell you more of the plot (such as it is), but I will say that Stallone directs this movie like he has something to prove. Indeed, Rambo (no need for the IV, I guess) is one of the most violent movies I have ever seen. Bodies are literally blown to bits before our eyes, heads are removed, throats are torn out. Sam Peckinpah does Saving Private Ryan. This visceral knock-out of a movie nearly redefines what an action film is supposed to be, and does so by resurrecting an icon from the 80's in what could have been (probably should have been) a bad joke.
The ending brings the character (and the audience) full circle, with a nice nod to the 1982 original, First Blood. I actually wanted a little more of a denouement, but ... why carp? Stallone -- still an incredibly fit, granite-faced bad-ass -- has done the impossible: brought a character from a by-gone era into new-millennial relevancy.
Rocky Balboa had his swan song -- as much as I love the character, I wouldn't want to see another film. John Rambo on the other hand ... who knows? I left the theater wanting more. With any luck, Rambo may live again.
MOVIE GRADE: B
Category: Movie Reviews