The Action Mutant…
says you don’t want to piss in John Rambo’s cornflakes!
review by Joe Burrows
Ah, yes. A day late and a dollar short, as they say (they?). The weekend presented me the opportunity to watch this Rambo jazz I’ve been harping on. I just HAD to get that review of The Bodyguard up and little did I know that the free time to write this review would come very soon afterwards. Quite simply, my timing sucks (“Yeah. Too bad I didn’t get there until AFTER the sodomy!”). But fear not, for the story of Rambo 2.0 must be told! And after watching, think of the talk that Sly may be trying to remake Death Wish. I’m almost half-tempted to say it would work, strangely enough.
The Plot, as it was:
In the twenty years since we last saw John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) in action, he has taken residence in Thailand and has lived off of fishing and catching snakes for money (in a funny semi-dig, a snake peddler tells Rambo he’s tired of seeing cobras). When a group of missionaries led by Michael (Paul Schulze) and Sarah (Julie Benz) seek Rambo’s assistance in leading them up the river to the genocidal region of Burma (i.e. Myanmar), the weary ‘Nam vet warns them that nothing will change due to their good intentions. Predictably, they’re captured by the soldiers, who engage in some of the sickest torture and party games imaginable. It’s up to Rambo and a band of mercenaries to bust the prisoners out…and we all know you don’t want to anger up Rambo!
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Anyone that is just familiar with the Rambo films being an excuse for Sly Stallone to oil up his pecs, strangle enemies with his taut thighs and engage in a post coital smoke (ok, I made the last one up) will be taken quite aback here. This is not the total comic book universe that Parts II and III were made of, as this is more of the callous, graphic novel version of John Rambo brought up to date. In essence, Rambo is a big middle finger from writers Stallone and Art Monterastelli to those that felt Rambo 20 years later wouldn’t fly in today’s landscape. To go even deeper, this version of Rambo is more in line with the recent Rob Zombie-fication of Halloween’s Michael Myers, whereas a legendary killing machine from the past is presented as a colder, rough around the edges mercenary that isn’t as slickly produced as before. Actually, Rambo has more in common with a horror film/serial killer this time around. With a butcher’s shoulders and temperament, Rambo’s shirt stays on and his scowl is almost permanent. The horrors of the past have gotten to him, turning him into a burnout that eventually kills for the mission (and need) over country. We even get an awesome Rocky V-esque montage to illustrate that point (I was half expecting Burgess Meredith to show up during it, just to yell “Get up, you son of a bitch! Cause Mickey loves ya!”). Sly also talks so little that he makes Charles Bronson sound like Tom Snyder chatting about his most recent lunch at Brentano’s. Fewer words make this Rambo the most efficient killing machine of the series and this film the most brisk of the four (80 minutes pre-closing credits). Sure, it has the thinnest of plots and characterizations (the villains are prototypically devilish and are just lacking the mustaches to twirl and a railroad system to use for bound, damsels in distress) and the final shot is a total tack-on (the pre-parting shot of Rambo ambling off into the jungle like Bigfoot, away from the carnage he just enveloped, would have been much more appropriate) but you will rarely find an actioner that will produce the visceral punch at a pace like this. The squeamish may want to look for another outlet (see below) as there was even more than a few moments that had my mouth drop. There are a few moments of comic relief via the mercenary team led by Lewis (Graham McTavish) but this is all basically a harsh, hard hitting, yet somehow entertaining (if you can take the bloodshed) product of the cynicism we have come to gather from the 80s. Remember, live for nothing….or die for something….or die trying….or try dying….or do some tie-dying!
Body Count/Violence: 247!!! What doesn’t this film have in terms of violence? Obviously, people are shot at a lightning pace but even that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The bullets not only blast blood out by the quart and put large holes into people but (in the case of the machine gun that Rambo gets a hold of near the end) they even tear people in half! The nastiness goes past the firearms, as people are blown up by landmines (and turned into bloody geysers), stabbed, having limbs chopped, blown or shot off, hung, beheaded, gutted, grenade attacked, turned into pig feed (really), throats being torn out, necks breaking, skulls being bashed in and more! Kids are even shot, stabbed with bayonets and thrown into fires! Of course, Rambo spills more Kool Aid than anyone by not only shooting it out of them but also setting up a faux nuke device and even breaking out the old nitro tipped arrows for fun. There may be less kills here than Hard Boiled but the carnage is more guttural and I haven’t seen a pic with such a continued nasty streak since Sin City. Old heroes never die…they just spend time coming up with more ways to kill people! (Note: The 247 is a count from one of the main guys at moviebodycounts.com. I was not about to try to count along here so I read his breakdown and really have no reason to doubt it.)
Sexuality/Nudity: Some Asian chicks have their tops exposed and one has their behind shown but it’s all during sexual assaults so it’s not pleasant. There’s also a thinly veiled nod to the General (Maung Maung Khin) dabbling in pedophilia, as if the villains need to be made sicker.
Language/Dialogue: Strong at times, with Lewis winning the “Best Multilayered Insult” prize by calling a Burmese soldier a “lady-boy cunt”. It made me giggle.
How bad was it?:
Much like the other cinematic icon Stallone decided to resurrect recently, Rambo was not totally dumped on by critics. There were more than a few reviews that chided it as a sick exercise in nihilism but many also praised it (about as much as you can praise a Stallone film, I mean) for being so radically off the path, as compared to the previous two Rambos.
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Well, it’s not 1985 anymore (tell that to TAM). Produced by Lions Gate Films and The Weinstein Company for $50 million, Rambo debuted on 1/25/08 in 2nd place with $18.2 million…next to…yes, Meet the Spartans! It never found its blockbuster legs, falling out of the top 10 two weeks later and eventually ending up with an American gross of $42.8 million. Though it eventually gathered another $67.1 million overseas ($109.8 million worldwide) and $8.6 million in its first week on DVD (released 5/26/08), it was still the lowest grossing and profiting of the Rambo franchise. (Note: For the record, Rambo eventually out-grossed and out-profited Meet the Spartans worldwide, earning its $109.8 million to MTS’s $84.2 million. It should have been an outright trouncing, though. No wonder John Rambo never wanted to come back home!)
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****
Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.