Sunday, August 8, 2010


This explosive, high-octane sequel to "First Blood" (1982) qualifies as a brawny, action-adventure epic that finds our troubled, misunderstood hero pressed back into service to return to Vietnam and search for missing American P.O.W.s still reputed to be in captivity. Originally, director Ted Kotcheff's "First Blood" depicted the trials and tribulations that a former Green Beret encounters when he came home from Vietnam and clashes with an obnoxious, hard-headed sheriff. “First Blood” was derived from author David Morrell’s cult novel. Eventually, after a high body count, John J. Rambo surrenders to the authorities. Whereas "First Blood" emerged as largely tragic, "Rambo: First Blood, Part 2" is primarily heroic. The film generated some controversy during its release with its contentious subject matter about surviving American P.O.W.s left behind in Vietnam. Surprisingly, “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2” did not create the ‘free the American P.O.W.s. Ironically, the film that did create this niche genre was Kotcheff’s “Uncommon Value” that came out two years before “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2.” Nevertheless, this “Rambo” sequel attracted more attention. Moreover, this sequel is a lot more charismatic because the James Cameron & Sylvester Stallone screenplay based on a story by “Tombstone” scribe Kevin Jarre deals mostly in black and white with fewer gray areas of subtlety. Remember, this is a formulaic actioneer with titanic archetypical characters competing against each other. This time Rambo is the white-all-over good guy protagonist battling overwhelming odds amid fantastic looking scenery. He wields his trusty knife as well as throwing blades, RPGs, explosive-tipped arrows, and a helicopter. One scene sums up Rambo's ideas about weaponry. He states: "I thought the mind was the best weapon." The villains are appropriately treacherous and savage, especially British actor Steven Berkoff as the sadistic Soviet colonel who tortures our hero and George Cheung as the North Vietnamese officer who kills the heroine.

As "Rambo: First Blood, Part 2" opens, Rambo is shown in prison. At least, he assures his visitor and mentor Colonel Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna of "Catlow") that he knows where he stands behind bars. Colonel Trautman makes him a proposition that will get him out of stir and back into the real world. After Rambo returns to Southeast Asia for the mission, he doesn't like the head honcho, Marshall Murdock (square-jawed Charles Napier of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”), because he doesn't trust him. Murdock claims that he served in Vietnam, but Rambo remembers Murdock's outfit being stationed somewhere else than where Murdock said. Before Rambo boards the jet that will take him to his destination, he informs Trautman that he is the only one whom he trusts. Afterwards, things go downhill rapidly. Rambo lugs an arsenal of sophisticated weapons aboard the jet. When he bails out, his parachute cord snags on the fuselage and jeopardizes his life. Consequently, our hero must resort to his razor-sharp knife to slash his way free of the plane. Of course, Rambo sacrifices that valuable, state-of-the-art arsenal, so he can survive and carry out the mission. Remember, he was instructed only to take photographs of the P.O.W.s. Incidentally, a similar plot complication occurred earlier in director Ted Kotcheff’s rescue-the-P.O.W.s-from Vietnam movie “Uncommon Valor” (1983) with Gene Hackman. The heroes lost their arsenal and had to improvise. At this point, Murdock wants to abort the mission, but Trautman won't let him. Meanwhile, Rambo makes his rendezvous after a little jaunt through the jungle and a brief encounter with a snake hanging from a tree. Rambo meets up with Co Bao (Julia Nickson of “Glitch!”) and she takes him to a river where pirates working for pay ferry them upriver. Since Rambo has lost his equipment, he cannot carry out his mission of photographing the P.O.W.s. Obstinately, Rambo slips into the camp and cuts loose one P.O.W. hanging from a rack. Our muscular protagonist hauls the P.O.W. off to the extraction point. Initially, Murdock is against flying in to retrieve Rambo, but Trautman puts up enough flak to convince him to go ahead with the flight. What happens next surprises not only Trautman but also Rambo. Murdock aborts the pick-up as Rambo and the P.O.W. stand on a hillside surrounded with Vietnamese soldiers. Predictably, Trautman is furious and calls both Ericson (Martin Kove of "The Karate Kid") and Banks (Andy Woods of "The Annihilators") "goddamned mercenaries."

The Vietnamese call in the Russians to interrogate Rambo. Little do they know that Rambo has been awarded a number of honors for his bravery, including two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, four Purple Hearts, Distinguished Service Cross, and a Congressional Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Colonel Podovsky (Steven Berkoff of “Octopussy”) confines our hero to a massive set of bed springs and fries him repeatedly with jolts of electricity. To make this scene and its torture more visually palatable for audiences, Cosmatos uses the venerable prison movie tactic of showing the lights dim with each successive jolt of electricity. Podovsky wants Rambo to confess his crimes, but Rambo has other ideas. Interestingly, Podovsky is the only one of Rambo’s adversaries who speaks in English. Meanwhile, Co Bao infiltrates the prison camp posing as a prostitute. Earlier, before Rambo and Co Bao sneaked into the camp, they saw a prostitute on a motor scooter enter the camp, so she uses this as her cover to get inside the barbed wire and rescue Rambo. Rambo warns Murdock that he is coming after him and escapes with Co Bao. Tragedy strikes not long afterward when Capt Vinh guns down Co Bao. Rambo wipes out the killers and buries Co Bao, but he wears her jade necklace. No sooner has Rambo avenged Co Bao’s death than Sergeant Yushin shows up in a Huey with a fire bomb that he drops at the water fall. The skies turn orange with the explosions that send Rambo diving into the water. The Huey descends to strafe the water and Rambo surprises them. He leaps up out of the water and jumps aboard the chopper. The chopper pilot panics and takes the helicopter back up. Sergeant Yuskin and Rambo slug it out, but Rambo manages to throw the Soviet non-com out of the chopper. The Soviet chopper pilot bails out before Rambo can lay his hands on him. Rambo commandeers the chopper and flies it back to the prison camp. He riddles the camp with gunfire and explosives and then lands to nelp get the six P.O.W.s out. A Soviet soldier laying dead in the high grass is really playing possum. He whips up his assault rifle and wounds one of the P.O.W.s before Rambo finishes him off.

James Cameron has gone on record and said that Stallone rewrote his screenplay and added the political brouhaha about the missing P.O.W.s. Reportedly, in the Cameron version, Rambo was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison, Jerry Goldsmith's splendid orchestral score puts sizzle into the action. Interestingly enough, “Exorcist” sound effects editor Fred J. Brown received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects Editing for “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2.” Director George P. Cosmatos doesn’t waste a second in this trim 94-minute exercise in larger-than-life violence, while “Conan the Destroyer” lenser Jack Cardiff captures all the gritty, muddy, visceral action with his widescreen cameras. Cosmatos states on the “Rambo 2” commentary track that he tried to inject as much movement as he could into the action and his crane shots exemplified this strategy. According to Cosmatos, a hurricane halted exterior production sequences, so he holed up in the motel with his cast and crew and shot many of the close-ups that pervade the film. Indeed, there are numerous close-ups and Cosmatos claims that these close-ups give the film its impact and strength. Editors Mark Goldblatt of “Terminator” and Mark Helfrich of “Predator” were two of the five editors that assembled the film and made copious use of Cosmatos’ inserts and close-up shots. The close-ups and insert shots are seamlessly integrated into the action and provide a sense of visual rhythm that makes the film more engaging than it might have been. “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2” features many iconic scenes for this type of movie. The helicopter attack on the prisoner-of-war camp is an exciting, adrenalin-laced sequence with multiple cameras covering the action as our hero strafes the camp and blows up guards. Later, Rambo’s helicopter squares off with the chief adversary who flies an imposing helicopter. The most incredible scene, however, in “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2” is the scene aboard a river ferry where our battle-scarred hero kisses an Asian girl. Rambo never locked lips with anybody in either “First Blood” or any of the other “Rambo” sequels. According to IMDB.COM, the body count is The total body count of the film is 67, 57 of whom Rambo kills.