18 March 2009

Movie Review: Rambo


2008, 93mins, R
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer (s): Sylvester Stallone, Art Monterastelli
Cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish
Release Date: 25th January 2008

After 2006’s immensely enjoyable Rocky Balboa one can’t really blame Sylvester Stallone for wanting to resurrect his other big 80’s icon, Vietnam veteran John Rambo. However whilst a final chapter in the Rocky franchise felt apt when considering the measure of abysmal sequels that great character had to sit through , one struggles to feel the same fondness for Rambo. The first film featuring the character First Blood was a well oiled actioner deserving of its cult status, but the follow ups marked the sort of dunderheaded filmmaking that marked out an entire generation of genre pictures. Basically he was a screen persona worth a run but not multiple efforts and an ever enlarging back-story. However Stallone seems to think that it’s worth one more run and in truth there is enough chaos in the world to support umpteenth warzone action flicks. On this occasion Burma’s the locale but despite pulling no punches with his rendition of the tragic situation in the country, Rambo is a film in need of a stronger script and selection of supporting characters.

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is embittered and unhappy; he makes a living selling snakes and boating people about whilst constantly having to deal with the demons of his past. One day he is propositioned by a group of aid workers looking to get a ride into war stricken Burma, reluctantly he eventually accepts and after a brief scuffle with some local colour delivers the helpers to the war torn wasteland. Weeks later it is reported to them that they have gone missing and he is again recruited to ferry a group of people, this time a band of mercenaries charged with finding the lost persons. However on this occasion when they board in Burma Rambo accompanies them into the jungles to complete a rescue mission one final time.

It’s hard to get overly excited by Rambo, it features a lot of violence and bloodshed but little of it bares much distinction or imagination, it would seem Stallone has rested the chances of exciting the audience purely on the unrelenting carnage. His performance his decent and much like he did with Rocky Balboa, Stallone attempts to recapture the integrity of the character missing from the sequels, but the support on this occasion is overwhelmingly poor. Julie Benz and Matthew Marsden are desperate in their attempts to offer up any real character substance but each fails on the grounds that they’re a dull performer whilst Graham McTavish hands in a laughably over the top effort as the mercenary leader. The lack of characters to engage with is a fatal flaw, so much of the pictures merits rely on the audience caring for the trapped and hunted individuals, something that the limp script won’t allow them to achieve.

The pictures depiction of Burma is probably more accurate than not, after all it’s now a serious offence to be caught watching the movie inside the country. The brutality on show is mostly courtesy of the Burmese army who are shown disposing of natives in the most vile and graphic of fashions whilst showing guests little added respect.

Stallone seems to take no pleasure in showing this but what’s a little dubious is his willingness as a director to revel in the retribution and revenge, parts of the movie depend on viewers wanting to see the villainous soldiers killed in the most brutal fashion possible. Gorehounds will probably find it awesome but the rest wouldn’t be criticized for raising an eyebrow, after all the final scene seems intent on simply killing off as many people as possible, rather than actually building a well structured and exciting action sequence.

Technically little can be quibbled but in other categories there is disappointingly little to like, Stallone performs reasonably well and directs with energy but the story seems morally hypocritical and support is never better than dire. If Rambo succeeds in addressing the issue in Burma then at least it can claim to have done something, because as an action film it offers precious little in the way of satisfactory entertainment.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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