Sylvester Stallone’s ornery, isolated Vietnam vet gets dead serious in Rambo, the fourth and probably final adventure for Sly’s 1980’s icon. Fans might find enough to cheer about, but Rambo naysayers will more than likely remain in their camp decrying this character’s very existence.
The film picks up 20 years after the last Rambo adventure with our hero tending to snakes in Thailand for a crazy cobra show. Whiny missionaries show up imploring the overgrown bandana man to take them upriver to Burma (aka Myanmar) in his boat, Apocalypse Now style! Rambo tells them “no.” Burma is a war zone, and unless they’re packing some heavy artillery they ain’t going to change nothing with the word of God. It seems Rambo has become super-jaded in his old age.
Despite seeming rather insistent at first, Rambo is easily persuaded by the hot woman in the group (Julie Benz). He escorts them upriver, where they are dropped off to start some sort of Burmese Sunday School and promptly get their asses kicked. Shortly thereafter, a pastor (Ken Howard) asks Rambo to join some mercenaries and bring back the flock. After some quick, requisite brooding, Rambo agrees.
My principal problem with the film is the missionary group and the way they are portrayed. They come off as annoying little bitches, and while I could see most authority figures having sympathy for them and mounting a rescue, the whole point of John Rambo is his intense isolationism. The way Stallone sets up Rambo’s bad attitude this time out, there just doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason for his sudden swing into action. Other than Julie Benz, who is pretty gosh darned pretty.
The film is fast and furious when it gets rolling, but that’s for just a few minutes of its running time. Too much time is spent with the terribly portrayed missionaries, who all deliver one-note performances thanks in part to poor dialogue penned by Mr. Stallone. As for the rescue mission mercenaries, they are nothing but a bunch of cartoon cutouts.
When Rambo finally starts doing very bad things to very bad people, the film lights up. Not enough to save it, but enough to keep it from being a complete waste of time. This is the most violent Rambo film yet. Bullets don’t just penetrate flesh; receivers of bullets explode. Heads burst, limbs fly off, and entrails are airborne in this bloodfest.
And the years haven’t been kind to Rambo. He’s gone from beefcake to the equivalent of an Arby’s giant, shredded, super roast beef sandwich. When he’s seen pouring scoops of liquid on snakes, I expected him to pour one over his head in order to marinate himself. Stallone looked OK in Rocky Balboa, but he’s too big in Rambo. Lately, he’s been heralding the wonders of his HGH usage, but he looks like the Cloverfield monster in this movie.
Much of the action in past Rambo films, especially the second and third, was done tongue-in-cheek with a sense of humor. Opportunities to laugh are few and far between in the current installment. The Burma situation, set up at the film’s beginning with actual newsreel footage of atrocities, is no laughing matter. The movie wants to be ugly and unpleasant, and it largely succeeds.
I like the prior Rambo movies in the order that they were released. First Blood (1982) is my favorite, Rambo: First Blood Part II is my second, and Rambo III takes third. Truth is, I had fun with those films, and I didn’t have enough fun with this one.
So, while I’m not at all unhappy to have seen this movie and did enjoy it on some levels, I can’t really recommend it. It’s cool to see John Rambo in action again, but the folks surrounding him are major eye and ear irritants. Plus, there isn’t one real Rambo crooked-mouthed primal scream in this movie. That’s like beer without the bubbles!