Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I remember watching ‘First Blood’ with the family on TV when I was a teenager and as the movie went on I started giving my old man the funny eye. You see I’m an Army brat as my father was a career military man, and similar to John Rambo he did the whole Vietnam thing and just like John he was a Ranger / Green Beret / Special Forces dude. The difference being that my dad is a fairly gentle person, though you probably wouldn’t want to mess him even on the dark side of sixty, and John Rambo is a lunatic. So I ask my dad, after Rambo had fallen from a cliff, broken his fall using some kind of extended branch, set his own broken arm with a twig and stitched up a gaping wound using hair from a dead rat or something – it’s been a while – ‘Can you do that stuff?’ My dad smiles and informs us that the filmmakers are being bit ‘creative’ with the skill set afforded to an Army Special Forces Green Beret. Whatever old man. My dad is a super bad-ass. So twenty years after the reasonably awful ‘Rambo III’ Sylvester Stallone has dusted off John Rambo, just as he dusted off Rocky Balboa, to take one more stab at it. And after seeing ‘John Rambo’ I’m not sure I will ever be the same. Damn.

There’s a war going on in Burma, or more so a slaughter than a war as the government controlled troops are rampaging villages, killing, raping, and destroying as oppressively violent as one can imagine. Right off the bat it’s fairly obvious that director Stallone isn’t shying away from graphic violence in this one as Burmese soldiers throw land minds in rice fields and force villages to race over them, blowing them to bloody chunks. Used to be in a movie when someone stepped on a land mine, the mine blew up and the person just kind of disappeared in a puff of smoke. No, in ‘John Rambo’ if you step on a mine, I’m guessing it’s more inline with what actually happens to a human body when someone is unfortunate enough to step on a land mine. The ones that survive this brutal game are then mowed down with automatic gunfire. It has been established that Burmese soldiers are some really bad people.

Down river in Thailand, John Rambo is an old man minding is own business living a meager existence capturing venomous snakes for the local snake charmer and ferrying folks about on his rickety boat. A missionary (Paul Schulze) wants to pay Rambo to ferry him and his crew of missionaries into Burma so that they can assist the villagers with medicines and the like, but Rambo refuses. Missionary Sarah (Julie Benz) implores John to assist them in helping the poor people, and though Rambo believes that if they aren’t delivering automatic weapons they aren’t helping jack, feeling a soft spot for the woman he drops them off into the war torn land upriver.

No sooner than the missionaries get there they are greeted with rockets, grenades, and death, with a few managing survive, but are now prisoners of an evil squad General. The church pastor (Ken Howard) from whence the missionaries request came, asks Rambo to drop off a group of mercenaries to the spot he dropped off the missionaries so that they could attempt a rescue mission. Still suffering from mental anguish from the previous movies, Rambo makes the decision to join the rescue, though the leader of squad (Graham McTavish) nixes the idea. Like John Rambo is gonna listen to that fool. Like Mr. LeaderMan isn’t going to be thanking the heavens above that the ferry boat driver / super bad-ass showed up in time to save their worthless behinds. It is ON now and it doesn’t stop until the credits roll.

Allow me to inform you that is the most VIOLENT movie I have ever seen. I mean what does one have to do to get an ‘NC-17’ rating around here. I suppose the doc ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated’ is spot on. Show a pubic hair, you get an NC-17, blast a dudes head off into a bloody pulp, over and over again, R for restricted is what it is. There is nothing that remotely comes close to the levels of blood shed and pure wanton destruction of human life that is ‘John Rambo’. ‘300’ was violent, but it was stylized violence, almost artistic. When a soldier puts his foot on the neck of a child and blows his chest out, you know you are watching a film that is not apologizing for anything. After a while I felt like standing up in the theater and yelling ‘Enough already Stallone! I can’t TAKE ANYMORE!’ But director Sylvester Stallone didn’t here my cries and kept the foot on the pedal jacking up the body count, and adding more mayhem and chaos than should be legally allowed in ninety minutes worth of movie. And I loved every minute of it. Gone are the shaky politics of the 1980’s Rambo films as the end of the cold war has taken Communism out of the picture, and it has been replaced with human atrocities. ‘John Rambo II’ could very well take place in Darfur.

The narrative of ‘John Rambo’ was functional and gave us just enough characterization that we at least felt something for the distressed individuals, and Sylvester Stallone gave John Rambo a bare minimum of lines to recite, but being a man of few words doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say, and what few words Rambo did mumble had some resonance to them. But mostly, the narrative was simply a frame for the action and violence which was assaulting and relentless.

If you’re the least bit gentile, this ain’t the movie for you. Imagine watching the opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ over and over again. If you’re ready to have your senses overloaded with violent stimuli, then allow me to introduce you to ‘John Rambo’.

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