Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky Balboa” was an elegantly suitable requiem for a beloved character. His “Rambo,” on the other hand, is very clearly a cynical cash-grab, made not because he had some good ideas for the character but because he wanted to capitalize on it.
It’s obvious in the way the film is put together. Stallone realized that the thing everyone liked best about the last two Rambo movies was how violent they were, so he increased the bloodshed tenfold. The new film, the fourth in the series, is packed not just with death but with bloody, violent, horrific death. There are dismemberments and maimings. The mayhem is constant. That’s what you wanted, right?
The story is retard-simple. Rambo, the embittered Vietnam-veteran expatriate, is living in Thailand, where he spends his time collecting snakes and being oily and lumpy. An American Christian group led by Michael Burnett (Paul Schulze) finds him and asks for his help in going up the river into Burma. He transports them, though he doubts they’ll be able to do any real good for the poor people there without bringing a lot of weapons and explosives with them. Violence, you see, is the only real way of effecting change.
Sure enough, the Christians get captured by Burmese militants, who are in the midst of an ethnic cleansing of the Karen tribe. (Note: The Karen are a real people, and they are not named after Karen Carpenter.) Rambo, joined by a batch of mercenaries who show up fortuitously, must return to Burma and rescue the Christians, primarily the beautiful Sarah (Julie Benz).
As you might expect, rescuing the innocents from the evil Burmese requires killing hundreds of people. Stallone (who directed the film and co-wrote it with Art Monterastelli) depicts this in vivid, graphic detail, and shoots many scenes in the jittery style so trendy among action-flick directors these days.
The dialogue, of course, is dumb, consisting mostly of declarations of platitudes like, “Live for nothing or die for something,” while the action is senseless and loud. A good guy is injured and his fellows must make a stretcher out of bamboo and raw materials, and what they come up with looks nicer than anything you could buy from a medical supply wholesaler. Rambo fires a machine gun at a line of people and actually perforates one man into two pieces. Things explode for no reason. Et cetera.
Eventually even the pacifist pastor Burnett must kill someone, even though he once said, “Taking a life is never right.” He does it in the most brutal way imaginable, too, by bashing a rock against the enemy’s head repeatedly. He should have listened to Rambo in the first place, who said, “When you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathin’.”
Yes, it’s a fine message of peace and brotherhood. John Rambo, a tragic and misunderstood character in “First Blood,” went on to become the poster child for over-the-top violence and badly written shoot-em-up pictures. The new film continues that tarnished legacy, though we do learn one interesting thing about Rambo: He’s no less coherent when speaking Burmese than he is when speaking English.
C- (1 hr., 33 min.; )