Monday, July 07, 2008

Rambo: Grade F

Rambo. (aka Rambo, The Fight Continues) (2008)
Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Graham McTavish. Co-writer and Director Sylvester Stallone.

I enjoy one-man-against-the-army movies, including the first Rambo of 1982, the Die-Hard series, the Death Wish series, and many memorable westerns. It’s a vehicle for Nietzschean exaltation of individual physical and moral superiority in the face of overwhelming opposition when no one else has the strength or courage or wits to do the right thing. And you would think that Stallone of all people would understand that theme. Alas, this latest (and presumably last) Rambo does not “get” the Rambo archetype.

In the early Rambos, the character was on a revenge or rescue mission, motivated by personal righteousness, with a grim determination that pushed him to near superhuman feats of endurance, resourcefulness, and strength against huge odds. Here, Rambo is merely catatonic, perhaps clinically depressed, but certainly “emotionally unavailable” to put it kindly. No explanation is provided for his sluggish movement and expressionless monotone. He has been living in civil-war-torn Burma since the Vietnam war, for reasons unknown, catching snakes for 30 years apparently. A group of Christian missionaries including the mandatory young blonde (Benz) convinces him to take them upriver to distribute Bibles and medicine. He drops them off and guess what, they are quickly captured by evil soldiers. The church hires a group of mercenaries to rescue them and Rambo takes them upriver also. Guards have their throats cut and gunfights ensue. Most of the missionaries are rescued. The blonde falls in the mud and ruins her outfit, but she is okay. The combat emphasizes heads and body parts being blown off in enormous sprays of blood. The special effects are good, but not new. The mutilation goes on and on, to the point of boredom. That’s what tipped me off that this is probably designed as a video game for mindless youth, and indeed the video game came out right after the movie’s release. There is no point to this movie except to blow up as many bodies as possible.

Early on, Rambo kills a gang of bad guys with a high powered bow and a quiver of arrows, a neat trick, but the bow quickly vanishes, traded for a more blood-spewing machine gun. Rambo has no particular reason to care about the missionaries and since their fate was entirely predictable, had no reason to take them upriver in the first place. Cryptically, he accepted no pay for taking them, implying a sudden Christian conversion? It is impossible to salvage a story out of this nonsense. Stallone looks fit for his 60 years but that’s not enough to carry a movie. Individual scenes are well photographed if you can ignore the heavy green and blue filters that indicate night or rain. Night is green and rain is blue; rain trumps night. Acting and dialog are uniformly abominable, except for some glimmers from mercenary McTavish. Music is what you’d expect to accompany glorification of pointless, bloody violence.

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