Can Stallone pull off the same trick with the fourth Rambo film that he did with Rocky Balboa. Er, no. No he can't...
Going to a movie with the word Rambo in the title and expecting any more than this film actually delivers is like going into a Porsche dealership and then getting sniffy that they haven’t got any people carriers.
This was never going to be a cerebral exercise, but little prepared me for just how primeval, visceral and yet entirely mindless it manages to be for its entire running time. The first three movies don’t even scratch the surface of how imaginatively people can expire with firearms, explosives and sharp implements, though towards the end of this I was beginning to think they’d scrapped the bottom of this barrel, and some.
Given the thought that obviously went into Rocky‘s return, I’d hoped – stupidly as it transpired, that equal deep thinking might develop the John Rambo character in ways we’d not considered. Maybe he’d resolve issues with charm and diplomacy, while leaving the bad guys stinging from his acerbic witticisms? Err…no…that wasn’t an option was it?
I’d mention the plot, but I’ve taken to writing sentences with more than five words in them recently, so I’ll skip over that chore. The acting performances are neatly divided into those actors you know, who get to survive or die heroically, and those you don’t and die brutally. With the exception of Julie Benz they’re all pretty awful, and her character’s plan to bring medicine to the poor of war torn Burma is so suicidal that I was hoping she’d learn a short but valuable lesson early in the carnage. But alas, she doesn’t.
Another disappointment is that late Richard Crenna can’t pop up as Col. Samuel Trautman, to tell anyone who’ll listen how many body bags they’ll need. In fact the US Army seems completely disinterested in one of its most effective killing machines, and hasn’t noticed he’s retired to live the quiet life next to one of the most brutal regimes on the planet. In the same way that The Kingdom wasn’t exactly a tourism banker for Saudi Arabia, John Rambo gives the Burmese dictatorship its unique stamp of disapproval. Although I’m sure they’ll take the negative PR in their stride, as they have done for the past 50 years or more.
Stallone looks in exceptional shape for his age, and handles the few dozen words he has with relative ease. He’s also directed the film, and while a bit painting-by-numbers in its approach, it’s a workmanlike effort. But with his fingerprints all over the picture – not least co-writing the excuse for the screenplay – he has to carry the can for the ultimate end result.
After the last bad guy bites the dust I’m drawn to conclude that the one and only ‘smart’ Rambo story is First Blood, and from there it’s gone consistently downhill. This fourth instalment spares us the jingoistic rhetoric or national pride of previous outings, but doesn’t actually say any more about the brutality of war, and the effects on those that go to it.
At the end of it I knew nothing new about Rambo other than his dad’s name began with an R. As the credits rolled on that revelation I chuckled to myself that his name could be Reggie, Ronnie or Ralf, or even Rambo…they all sounded equally daft.
If you want to be transported back 25 years to action movies that have no aspirations to be more than the wrapper suggests, then you’ll be at home with Rambo.