February, 2008, Thriller

Directed by:Sylvester Stallone

Starring:Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, and Matthew Marsden

Jingoism-(jin-go-ism) noun. Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism

-Random House Unabridged Dictionary

Who remembers any of Sylvester Stallone’s  30-odd leading roles that don’t feature either Rocky Balboa or John Rambo? At age 62 this aging Hollywood has-been reprises, (yet again) his role as the solitary Vietnam vet who speaks softly and carries enough armament to conduct a military coup. Adding over 40 pounds to his 5’ 10” frame for this role, (by taking prescription testosterone), the actor also directs himself here, working from a script co-written with Art Monterastelli, (Buried Alive). It features a largely Thai cast whose thespian skills hover just above completely awful and a crew which includes 10 individuals listed in the credits as “plasterers”. 

The Rambo character began life in 1982 as a disaffected vet hounded by thuggish small town police officers in the Pacific Northwest, (First Blood) who goes berserk because his contributions to the war effort went unappreciated here at home; then our hero morphed into an avenging angel rescuing un-repatriated POW’s in Vietnam, (Rambo: First Blood Part II). In his third incarnation, Rambo settled scores with Islamic terrorists of pre-Al Qaeda persuasion, (Rambo III);  now, 20 years later, he’s battling the repressive government of Burma, which is supposedly bent on persecuting Christian missionaries intent on spreading the gospel and delivering western-style medical assistance to beleaguered villagers in that far-off, exotic part of Southeast Asia.

Rambo’s hackneyed storyline finds our intrepid warrior initially hunting for venomous snakes in undisclosed location in Thailand. Endlessly cynical and totally monosyllabic, he agrees to sneak a group of church-sponsored humanitarian aid workers into neighboring Burma, in defiance of a governmental ban. When they’re subsequently captured and imprisoned at enormous loss of indigenous life, Rambo is paired with a small group of mercenaries, (employed by supposedly peace-loving churchman Ken Howard) to bring the do-gooders home, by whatever means necessary.

Everything about Rambo looks shopworn; the cliché-ridden dialogue and camerawork, editing, special effects and amateurishly staged action sequences make kung-fu impresario Chuck Norris’ jungle epics look artistically sophisticated by comparison. But no matter; the audience for this genre comes not for filmmaking subtly, but for the gore. While supplied here in nauseous quantities, it’s so poorly shot that audiences can be forgiven for suspecting that the writer/director/star is actually spoofing his own screen persona. Blood spurts, body parts fly, Stallone snarls above his blazing machine gun and the body-count soars, in the process converting a bunch of Bible-toting pacifist missionaries into guerilla fighters. This climatic confrontation brings new meaning to the phrase “gratuitous violence”. 

Having blazed a trail of death over 3 continents in the 26 years since his first appearance, the final credits roll over Rambo’s solitary stroll down the lane to his long-estranged father’s ranch back in the U.S., suggesting that our hero may be bringing his blood-lust home for the last time… 

Why bother to report on such junk? This movie’s moral - - that the U.S. has the right to evangelize the world with American values and back their injection into other cultures with violence - - bears more than a passing resemblance to our current foreign policy, does it not? In this election year, are we still buying this brand of what Random House defines as “chauvinistic patriotism”? Rambo opened on over 2750 screens last week and took in over $18 million at the box-office in the first three days of release. 

The verdict? Unless you’re a big fan of Rush Limbaugh’s worldview, you can skip it.

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