Rambo (2008)

Badly flawed

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on February 7, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Rambo and Stallone

Do you want disembowelment and decapitation with your popcorn? Is gore glorious? Is brutality orgasmic? Is spurting blood the fountain of fun?

If so, Rambo is 4 U.

There is an audience that goes to the movies simply for a visceral experience. They don't care whether the hero is out-acted by the weaponry. They don't care about character or plot. In the dialogue, a mumbled wisecrack is more than sufficient.

Recently movies that are mere visceral experiences have had extremely successful openings in the theaters. A few weeks ago Cloverfield broke the record for openings in January. But because Cloverfield is one-dimensional, it fell off drastically after the first week. Word of mouth killed it.

Both Rambo and Cloverfield share much in common; they're visceral experiences, and little else. Rambo, like Cloverfield, has mediocre acting, skimpy plotting, shallow characters, dopey dialogue, and bombastic rushes of adrenalin.

Splanchnic Slay Stallone is back as John Rambo. In this fourth outing, Stallone's ego is muscle-bound and out of mothballs. According to a chart in the Los Angeles Times by John Mueller, Rambo himself killed only one person in 1982's First Blood; in 2007's Rambo, he kills 83.

Stallone tries to inflate the killings to keep up with his ego. Even though he maims everything in sight, it's no contest. His ego still wins easily.

The first time I saw the Stallone ego at work in person was at a pressconference for Rocky (1960). His young blonde wife was his personal photographer, snapping countless pictures of him. Shortly after he achieved success, he dumped her.

Perhaps the best thing that ever happened for his career is when the studio got in the way of his ego. Stallone insisted he himself direct Rocky, but the powers-that-be selected John C. Avildsen to direct the original Rocky. Avildsen and the film went on to earn Academy Awards.

But Stallone was not to be denied. He directed four of the next five Rockys.

His fourth attempt, Rocky Balboa (2006), was surprisingly controlled and had an admirable human touch.

The first three Rambos were directed by journeymen Ted Kotcheff, Jack Cardiff, and Peter McDonald. Stallone finally took over the bloody helm in the fourth Rambo, but Rambo is no Rocky Balboa.

Rocky and Rambo both are Stallone signature characters. But Rocky, an appealing character, has been blown into smithereens by Stallone's penchant for John C. Rambo. Does Stallone really want to wind up as a mumbling weapon gone amok? It seems so.

In Rambo, Stallone plays swollen lip service to the horrible strife in Myanmar, which in the film is referred to as Burma, its previous name.

Missionaries go up the river and are set upon by excruciatingly evil torturers and killers. One of the missionaries, Sarah (Julie Benz), looks ga-ga at Rambo. Who wouldn't? I guess those who look at him and gag-gag.

Rambo and a group of mercenaries have to save the imprisoned victims and exact vengeance. It's a mess of graphic cruelty and grueling bloodletting. Rambo is like Roadrunner with the Acme arsenal gone berserk.

As an actor Stallone was most adept as Rocky. He's often been less successful. The Golden Raspberries are given to each year's worst in movies. Stallone has been a really viable candidate for a number of years.

Stallone won two Golden Raspberries as Worst Actor for both Rambo II (1985) and Rambo III (1988). Rambo II got a superfecta of Golden Raspberries for Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay (again Stallone), and Worst Song.

In 1984 Stallone also got the Golden Raspberry as Worst Actor for Rhinestone, and in 1992 he was Worst Actor for Stop or My Mom Will Shoot.

Stallone only got nominations as Worst Actor in 1995 for both Assassins and Judge Dredd. He also received nominations for Worst Actor for Daylight (1996) and Get Carter (2000). But have no fear. Sly is in serious contention again this year.

It's instructive to compare the careers of Sly Stallone and Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has taken a high road, without Dirty Harry. In a 2005 interview in Brightlightsfilm.com, Eastwood told me about his assessment of Harry Callahan's future. Clint said, "People say, 'How about bringing back Dirty Harry?' I say, 'Are you going to have him driving along the highway in a trailer with an AARP sign on one side, and an I'm Spending the Kids' Inheritance on the other? Then what happens?" Clint shook his head. "He has to come out of retirement with a big 44? I've pretty well shot that down."

Stallone, on the other hand, has decided to get out of the trailer with a rocket launcher in each hand. In his last two films, Eastwood has thoughtfully revisited Iwo Jima. Stallone just goes to the slaughterhouse.


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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