- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by David Medsker
ith a movie like “Rambo,” it’s best to just throw the scale out the window. How do you measure it against anything but itself, and possibly the three previous Rambo movies? (If we’re being fair, though, we leave “First Blood” out of the conversation altogether, since it was a completely different kind of movie.) “Rambo” movies exist in their own universe, where no critical barb, be it sincere or snarky, can touch them. That notion appears to be lost on Lionsgate, who did not screen “Rambo” for critics, but fortunately it was not lost on writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone. He knows what anyone who pays to see a “Rambo” movie wants, and boy howdy, does he give it to them.
The movie opens with John Rambo (Stallone) living in Thailand, capturing deadly snakes for a tourist attraction. A group of missionaries asks Rambo to ferry them into war-torn Burma, so they can provide heath care to the sick villagers. Rambo refuses at first, telling them it’s a suicide mission, but relents after the dogged Sarah (Julie Benz) changes his mind. Rambo takes them to the village and thinks nothing of it until weeks later, when another member of the church group arrives to tell him the missionaries have not been heard from in 10 days. Rambo then agrees to boat a group of misfit mercenaries, led by the cantankerous Lewis (Graham McTavish, a poor man’s Vinnie Jones), up the river to do a quick grab-and-go of the prisoners. Shots are fired. People die. Stuff gets blow’d up.
Stallone is probably getting a big head over the success of “Rocky Balboa” and what will likely be a modest return on “Rambo,” but what he needs to realize is that his movies work in spite of his efforts, not because of them. His attempts at dialogue and character development are laughable – we learn everything we need to know about the mercenaries in two minutes on the boat ride, and we learn nothing about the missionaries – and his acting has fallen off the table, snarling his lines as if he’s not Stallone but a Stallone impersonator. What Stallone has working in his favor, though, is lowered expectations. No one will see “Rambo” thinking it will be the next “True Lies,” so certain aspects of moviemaking, such as plausibility – Sarah is captured and, amazingly, not raped once – have no bearing on the movie’s overall likeability. This is why rating a movie like this is all but pointless; to use a tired cliché, it is what it is. To expect anything more is not only a fool’s errand but unreasonable.
Think of “Rambo” in the same terms as Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado.” It’s a sequel, but it’s also sort of a remake, with a bigger budget and better effects than they had to work with the first time around. As crazy an idea as a new “Rambo” movie sounded – much like the idea of another “Rocky” movie – damned if Stallone doesn’t find a way to make it work.
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review:
It might cost you an extra few bucks, but the special edition release of “Rambo” is jam-packed with bonus material, including an audio commentary with writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone (who comes off surprisingly humble and intelligent), a handful of deleted scenes, and a digital copy of the film. The real meat of the extras comes in the form of six different featurettes, however, and though Stallone’s candidness makes it well worth sitting through the entire lot, the best of the bunch is undoubtedly the making-of featurette “It’s a Long Road.” Rounding out the two-disc set are behind-the-scenes bits on music (“A Score to Settle”), editing (“The Art of War”) and weapon props (“The Weaponry of Rambo”), as well as a short documentary on the ongoing civil war in Burma (“A Legacy of Despair”).