Thursday, October 2, 2008


Writer & director Sylvester Stallone raises the bar for violent, bloodthirsty combat sequences in his third sequel to "First Blood" (1982), the original epic about ex-Green Beret warrior John Rambo's exploits. Moreover, "Rambo" (***1/2 out of ****) makes the rugged battle scenes in both director Ridley Scott's adrenaline-fueled "Black Hawk Down" and Steven Spielberg's bullet-riddled "Saving Private Ryan" look like pugnacious paint-ball-blasting tournaments. No, "Rambo" doesn't boast the production values or elaborate villains that he confronted in "Rambo: First Blood Part 2" of Rambo III." Indeed, there are fewer explosions, but the considerably ramped up violence and the vicious Burmese Army troops compensate for those shortcomings.

The scenes of carnage in "Rambo" are so intense and gory that you'll shudder with revulsion every time a bullet pulverizes somebody, including the hideously repugnant villains. If the first two Rambo movies, "First Blood" and "Rambo: First Blood, Part 2," served as referendums on the contentious Vietnam War, with "Rambo 3" skewering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then it should come as no surprise that "Rambo" four exposes the genocide raging for sixty years in Burma.

In fact, Stallone selected Burma, officially called the Union of Myanmar, as the setting because the conflict between the Burmese Army and the Karen ethnic minority qualifies as the world's longest civil war. Said Stallone in a recent "Movies On-Line" interview, "From the time I heard about it and began researching it, I though, 'If I could just combine the two—raising awareness of the Karen-Burmese civil war and giving the audience a good adventure story—that would be perfect.'" Art Monterastelli and Stallone co-scripted "Rambo" and it clocks in at about 80 lean, mean minutes with a 12 minute end credit roll. Essentially, it's like an extended "A-Team" episode with gallons of blood and gore and terrific computer generated special effects that heighten the realism of the battle sequences. Virtually, all of the weapons are genuine replicas if not the real thing loaded with blanks.

Mind you, twenty years has elapsed since hard-bodied, tight-lipped Rambo swapped lead with anybody. Nothing has changed. Although it's as predictable, straightforward, but solemn as previous Rambo actioneers, "Rambo" is also as old-fashioned as any of the 1942-1945 World War II Hollywood propaganda movies that justified U.S. intervention in a global war. Stallone appears a mite long in the tooth (he's 62-years old), but he looks like Samson in fatigues, with blood veins entwining his bulging forearms like giant pythons. Unlike his last movie "Rocky
Balboa" where he proudly displayed his muscular physique, Stallone doesn't shred his fatigues. Interestingly, he may be one of the few action heroes who refuses to rip his shirt to ribbons like the classic pulp fiction hero Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, every time that he tangled with an adversary.

When we meet Rambo, he is living in northern Thailand, runs a longboat the River Salween, captures cobras for a side show, and does a little blacksmithing at a forge. Several human rights missionaries ask him to ferry them into nearby Burma so they can deliver medical supplies and services to destitute Karen villagers. Initially, the world-weary Rambo refuses, but one of the missionaries, Sarah (plain-Jane looking Julie Benz of Showtime's "Dexter"), convinces him to take them. The ride upriver evokes memories of director Francis Ford Coppola's classic "Apocalypse Now" with Marlon Brando. No sooner have the Christian missionaries reached a remote village and improved the quality of life than the evil soldiers arrive. They either kill or
enslave everybody. These scenes are extremely graphic. Afterward, Reverend Arthur March (Ken Howard of "Michael Clayton") who represents the missionaries approaches Rambo about taking a motley crew of mercenaries in to rescue Sarah and the survivors. The mercenaries have second thoughts when they learn that the Army outnumbers them ten-to-one. Rambo shames them into doing their job. Naturally, Rambo cannot pass up a good fight so he breaks out his bow & arrow. Later, he wields a .50 caliber machine gun with devastating results, mowing down well over seventy-five soldiers. Rambo's best line is: "Live for nothing, or die for something!" This line pretty much sums up the storyline. Richard Crenna briefly appears in a montage sequence as Colonel Trautman when Rambo ponders his fate. Talented "Exit Wounds" lenser Glen MacPherson photographed the action against authentic Thai backgrounds during torrential downpours of rain.

Happily, "Rambo" brings our hero full circle in what Stallone has said is the final "Rambo" film. If you missed this explosive movie during its theatrical run, the "Rambo" DVD is terrific with an informative audio commentary track by Stallone that takes you behind the scenes into the production of this epic war movie.

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