STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $34.98
RUNNING TIME: 93 Minutes

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Digital Copy
  • Commentary
  • Six Featurettes

The Pitch

John Rambo takes a break from a busy and rewarding career of grabbing poisonous snakes by the face to murder every bad guy in Burma with a jeep-mounted .50 machine gun.

The Humans

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Writer: Sylvester Stallone. Art Monterastelli.

Cinematographer: Glen MacPherson

Cast: Sylvester Stallone. Julie Benz. Paul Schulze. Matthew Marsden. Graham McTavish. Ken Howard.

And just like that Marion and his franchise were no more.

The Nutshell

Once again, John Rambo takes a break from a busy and rewarding career of grabbing poisonous snakes by the face to murder every bad guy in Burma with a jeep-mounted .50 machine gun. To be fair, he stabs a few and fires arrows through others. I won’t waver much though. He really likes shooting people into carpaccio from a jeep and finds stabbing and firing arrows to be substandard. The Burmese really come apart nicely in Rambo’s humble opinion when being dissected by his heated loads and given the choice would like to apply this technique to other yellow and brown gentleman who don’t fall in line.

The Lowdown

[The following is my theatrical review followed by a brand new and Sensational Epilogue]

There’s nothing more unifying to a crowd than having John Rambo cut wet swaths through people with a large machine gun. Political views. Religion. Ph Balance. None of these things matter just so long as people are being disassembled by sizzling loads sent forth from the muzzle of a turret operated by John Rambo.

Luckily Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo has very little else on its agenda aside from showcasing a pissed-off Vietnam veteran destroying his fellow men in messy and unsanitary ways. Though it follows the three-act structure, Rambo feels like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Movie, and when the film reaches its climax it’s at a time where most films would be just be gearing up for the last half hour of mayhem.

Stallone has always been a thrift in the editing room as evidenced by the Rocky films of the 80’s, and Rambo is so quick and so threadbare that you don’t have enough time to form an argument against it before something happens that just makes you shake your head and fall in line with the utterly gratuitous and plentiful human suffering.

To be fair, a question we all need asked of us.

People don’t die in their sleep in Rambo. They are shredded. They are hewn. They explode. They are perforated and they are incinerated. The amount of open casket funerals to be had in Burma following John Rambo’s vacation can be counted on one badly bandaged war stump, likely attached to the torso of a soldier whose last memory is of a veined Italian man shooting an arrow through his soccer teammate’s jaw.

If you take the grisly business out of this movie, Stallone’s swan song as his second most beloved character [third if you’re a Rhinestone fan], it pretty much comes across as a truly lunkheaded endeavor. A group of missionaries led by Father Phil from The Sopranos (Paul Schulze) and Julie Benz (having done enough to not just be considered Darla the vampire) persuades snake catcher John Rambo to guide them into the war zone of Burma. Reluctantly, he takes them and as soon as they’re doing their “good work” out of his care they are captured. Word gets to Rambo, who then has to escort a group of mercenaries to save them. Rambo steps in to save them all and the next day the world’s population is a lot less. It’s simple. A problem exists and John Rambo solves it with ultraviolence. Could be worse…

The villains are truly one-dimensional, killing and raping incessantly and so bored with the simple act of murder that they have to make little games out of it. The End Boss is fleshed out a little more; he wears sunglasses and likes the company of a young boy now and again. That’s it. I actually liked tha about him. He doesn’t have much to say, doesn’t have a conversation with John Rambo. He’s just bad and foreign and eventually looking at his pieces on the ground around him wondering where it all went wrong.

The mercenaries start off as the most generic guys ever, seemingly guys who missed the gigs in Men of War or Deep Rising, but eventually become fun parts of the movie. They even help John Rambo turn little Burmese men into little Burmese puddles. It makes you wonder if this franchise has enough to sustain one more film, one where Rambo and a team of mercs are dropped into the Middle East and solve it with sniper fire and arrows to the cheek.

The missionaries are also quite archetypal and though the film makes Benz’s character out to have some special insight into Rambo’s tortured psyche I think it’s more a matter of how most guys would do what she asks them to do in Orange County, let alone the blonde-suppressed jungle mortuary known as Burma. She’s cute and she needs help. Done.

Plus, we all know that you can take the snake catcher out of the murdering jeep with the chain gun but you can never take the murdering jeep with the chain gun out of the snake catcher.

It’s a quick, stupefying movie but a fun one and a showcase for the latest in squib technology. You may not feel good about it, but Rambo is a quintessential Friday night movie anyone who survived the 80’s deserves to see.

Sensational Epilogue:

I’ve now seen Rambo five times, which is four times more than I saw Rambo III, one time more than I saw Rambo, First Blood Part 2, and about twenty times less than I’ve seen First Blood. Erase the two middle films and the first and last could almost be woven together into a rather interesting mini-epic. They are both solemn affairs that showcase the loner aspect of the character for quite some time before the cork is taken out and John Rambo becomes a force of man-demolishing nature. One of Stallone’s strengths is knowing his characters so well that he can distill them to the most bare essence and build from there. Here he keeps it really simple, carrying his brooding soldier from a ‘fuck the world’ to a ‘heavy pet the world’ paradigm. A lot of folks give the man shit for what can be seen as lowest common denominator filmmaking but as a writer and a director the man has his thing, knows his thing, and sticks to it. It worked with Rocky Balboa and it works here. That said, as bare bones as this film seems to be there might be a little bit more to it than originally suspected.

Rambo moves so fast, is so violent, and features such little dialogue that it seems like half a film. In many ways this might have worked even better as a silent film (except for music, explosions, gunfire, tortured screams of the decimated, and the sounds of meat and blood raining down on the jungle floor). What’s going on, the motives of the characters, and the interplay between them works just as well without words. Their lines are simply to move things along. We know John Rambo’s deal, we know what missionaries do. We know that people who kill innocent people for sport aren’t role models. Also, this is not a dialogue movie. Aside from the mercenaries and their somewhat fun banter, what the characters are saying is mostly a concession for the audience. For example:

John Rambo: Why’d you come back?
Sarah: Waiting for you.
John Rambo: I told you before, I can’t help you.
Sarah: Well we need to go and help these people, we’re here to make a difference, we believe all lives are special.
John Rambo: Some lives, some not.
Sarah: Really? If everyone thought like you, nothing would ever change.
John Rambo: Nothing does change.
Sarah: Of course it does! Nothing stays the same.
John Rambo: Live your life cause you’ve got a good one.
Sarah: It’s what I’m trying to do!
John Rambo: No, what you’re trying to do is change what is.
Sarah: And what is?
John Rambo: Go home.

Not going to sell many copies of Rambo: The Shooting Script with that stuff.

Which is good, because these films don’t aim there. When at their best, these films identify a danger, point John Rambo in danger’s direction and let him kick asshole. More than any of the films in the series, this does that and does it well even upon repeat viewings.

It’s almost like an informercial for hatred and I mean that in the most awesome way imaginable. I love this bloody bastard.

The Package

Sylvester Stallone should do a commentary track for every movie. He’s funny, well-spoken, self effacing, and that voice is a gravelly golden gift from either the cosmos or the depths of the hollows. Either way, we win.

His track here is mostly about the situation in Burma and the process of putting the film together. He’s been in this business for so long and so creatively involved as more than just an actor for all that duration it’s nice to see how effortlessly he conveys the information without any ego at all. It helps that he’s the principal architect of the film and able to have the floor to himself. It’s a good track and goes a long way towards raising one’s opinion of the film above simple guilty pleasure. Although it’s really a gritty action flick there was some intent that goes beyond the visceral and there’s no denying the fact that Stallone means well and cares about the situation over there…

…which is illustrated by one of the film’s handful of featurettes, devoted solely to the crisis in Burma. The featurettes are good and include participation from nearly everyone, including a strikingly black-haired Julie Benz. This just in: She’s cute.

They’re a nice assortment that are less than documentary quality but far above some of the EPK fluff DVDs are packaged with these days. The deleted scenes are mostly unnecessary but harmless and though I hear Stallone plans a director’s cut of the film, it may be one that doesn’t really have much need. This is a lean and mean film and unless the new scenes involve massive bodily trauma I don’t see the point.

All told this is a nice little DVD package, though I must admit that I am not totally getting this “Includes a Digital Copy” business when the only way I’d want a digital copy is for my IPOD and that option doesn’t exist.

7.5 out of 10