Reviewed by: Dr. "Doc" McPhearson
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Written by by Art Monterastelli and Sylvester Stallone
HEROES NEVER DIE... THEY JUST RELOAD
[SPOILER WARNING, I SUPPOSE]
True, the tagline is corny, as is much of the dialogue; nevertheless, Sylvester Stallone still turns out a helluva action flick here.
The late-to-arrive fourth installment of the "First Blood" series, "Rambo" chronicles the newest ventures, and well-deserved death-dealin's, of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a man born and breed to kill first, and question never. For those who have paid attention to the past three films, the fact that his killer career (pun intended) began when he was entered into the Vietnam War should serve as no surprise. Yet still, all of that background information means nothing here; one thing about Stallone, both here and elsewhere... he produces stand-alone material, rather than arrogantly assuming that you've seen the chapters that preceded it.
Anyway, enough of this hodge-podge; our story begins in Thailand, where Rambo, sweaty and exhausted, lives day-to-day, a white giant among the much stouter natives. And though one would think that he was, even involuntarily, the pink elephant in the room, he keeps to himself, erasing from his mind the fact that not but a few miles away, in war-torn Burma, a gruesome, unwarranted genocide is taking place. "You can't change anything," he says, so why even bother thinking about it.
That is, until a small group of Christian aid workers request the use of his river boat, with him, of course, at the helm. Against his better judgment, he finally agrees, and eventually gets them to their destination, a small village on the border of Burma. The end. Mission accomplished....
Or so he thought.
Alas, a local infantry unit sweeps through the village, killing anything that moves, and taking multiple aid workers as hostages. Why leave them alive, you ask? Simple: to keep the plot moving, of course. For when Rambo hears news of their capture, and is told that a group of mercenaries is being sent in attempts to rescue the survivors, he has no other choice but to join them in their attempts.
The first twenty minutes of this film are true dozers at times; the screenplay, written in a rather cliché fashion by Stallone and Art Monterastelli, has a message that never truly shines through, instead only working as a distraction from the bloody gun-toting that is to come. Character development is also attempted, but never quite successful enough for me to give a lick about any of these two-dimensional caricatures. But in the film's defense, I didn't walk into the film expecting class-rate dialogue, so I guess, in that sense, I wasn't disappointed.
You may have noticed that I haven't said much about the other characters in this picture. And before you ask, I'll tell you: It's because they really just aren't that special, rather used as mere plot devices through which to advance the timeline along. The aid workers are used as motivation to get Rambo into the mess, and his fellow mercenaries are used to get him out of it (particularly at times when its obvious the screenwriters didn't know where to take the tale next). You have the foul-mouthed Australian, the Middle-Eastern, the chain-smoking Asian guy (guess who dies first), none of which you ever truly begin to care about. One supporting character I am particularly fond of, though, is the young mercenary sniper (Michael Marsden), nicknamed School Boy. Ah, but don't let the alias fool ya; this kid's got a rifle that can tear a man in half from a mile away.
What I enjoyed more than the acting and the writing (neither of which hold anything special) is the behind-the-camera work. The cinematography of Glen MacPherson (we were separated at birth, I think) is anything but shy; it shows kids slaughtered, women thrown into scorching blazes, innocents running through a marshy minefield, and a father shot through the back, only for the bullet to continue traveling, even as it rips through the baby he is carrying in his arms. Sean Albertson's editing never misses a beat, and makes certain to give us our money's worth in both brawn and blood; true, it's not "Bourne Ultimatum," but it works here quite nicely. And Franco-Giacomo Carbone, the man behind sick films in the likes of "Bug" and "Hostel," shines true with production design that many times blends so well with MacPherson's framework that you hardly notice it enough to give it the credit it deserves.
With an underlying message that fails to match that of "Hotel Rwanda" or even "Blood Diamond," but with brutality that rivals the likes of, dare I say it, "Saving Private Ryan," what this film doesn't have in substance, it makes up for in adrenaline. Yes, the first act is expositional, thus affecting my rating of the film tremendously. But when that second half begins, and guns are drawn from both sides, we are quickly reminded why John Rambo is one of the cinema's most infamous anti-heroes. And when Stallone draws that machete for the first time, you know you're in for a heckuva reunion.
6 out of 10