Monday, March 3, 2008


I thoroughly enjoyed “Rambo” (2008). So sue me. Sometimes you want to put your brain on hold and enjoy a rousing action flick. In “Rambo” the villains are very, very bad and we want to see them get their comeuppance. “Rambo” goes one better by decimating the bad guys in as many a gruesome ways as possible.

This is the fourth Rambo movie to star Sylvester Stallone. Following his very triumphant return to the Rocky Balboa character in, not surprisingly, “Rocky Balboa” (2006), Stallone decided to return to his other iconic character, John Rambo, the killing machine born from the Vietnam War (and an uncaring U.S. populace upon his return home).

In “Rambo” Stallone is grotesquely oversized, like a character in a Tex Avery cartoon. He’s approached to bring some American medical workers, from a church in Colorado, into Burma to bring medicine to villagers suffering from genocide. He refuses to take them in until convinced to do so by the lone female, Sarah (Julie Benz, Darla from the “Angel” TV series). Of course they get captured and Rambo, after being asked by the pastor of the Colorado church (Ken Howard) goes after them.

Though the film is directed and co-written by Stallone, his age is addressed in an off-hand manner. He accompanies some mercenaries to bring the missionaries back. Twenty years ago Rambo would have handled the job by himself. Today, he can’t do it alone. Rambo is still the super solider, but he has the help of the mercenaries.

“Rambo” is incredibly violent, probably the most violent entry in the series. Some have questioned the taste of using the genocide in Burma as the background for an action movie, even including actual news clips of the Burmese situation at the beginning of the film. Genocide is occurring in that part of the world, on a scale I don’t think we have heard about yet. So there’s a primal satisfaction in seeing these animals get what they have been dishing out for years.

Despite the violence, “Rambo” is a beautiful looking film. Filmed on location in the lush, green hillsides of Thailand, Glen MacPherson’s cinematography captures the haunting beauty of terrain.

There’s a lot of fast cutting and hand held camera work in the action scenes, a la the Jason Bourne movies. I may be getting used to the technique, because it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. The final 15 minutes is a veritable orgy of action, flying bullets and exploding limbs. But Stallone is a masterful director of action, and we always know where the protagonists are in relation to each other. There’s no confusion about who’s shooting at who, or from which direction the danger is coming from. So many contemporary action movies are more concerned with the cutting and the size of the explosions, they lose focus of the action’s geography. Not here.

Brian Tyler contributes an effective score, and I was heartened to see Jerry Goldsmith’s “First Blood” theme used in part of the opening and closing credits. It was like hearing a new Goldsmith score at the movies. It was a nice touch.

Looking forward to the fifth Rambo movie.

Rating for “Rambo”: Three stars.

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