"You're Listening To WRMB --- Rambo."
In a weekend without football, I needed something equally masculine to take up my Sunday afternoon. It was this logic that drew me to a matinee of the new Rambo movie. Let's just say it's too bad that 'There Will Be Blood' has already been taken as a movie title.
The plot, as it is, involves good ol' John Rambo still living in Thailand being all bitter at the world when a group of Christian missionaries arrive and ask if he could sail them up the river into Burma. The missionaries (who include Paul 'Ryan Chappelle from 24' Schulze and Julie 'Darla From Buffy & Angel' Benz) are on a mission to give humanitarian aid to victims of the somewhat nutty Burmese Army. They need Rambo's help getting into Burma since he 'knows the river better than anyone.' It's a river --- is there any trick to this? Will Rambo spot trouble and say "Quickly, into this fjord!" Actually I think I'd pay good money to see Stallone utter the word 'fjord.' Sly, by the way, is craggier than ever. He has somehow aged five years since the last Rocky film.
Anyway, Rambo eventually agrees to help since, well, Julie Benz is hot. He sails them into Burma on the Ram-boat and then after a quick skirmish with some pirates, Chappelle gets all uppity and Chappelle-like and says Rambo can leave since they'll be getting back on roads. Great plan. So they'll just drive up to the Burmese border and the guards will let them leave the country without wondering how they got in? Their asses would've been smacked back quicker than if they had been trying to carry fruit across the Ambassador Bridge. But anyway, Rambo leaves and within a day the missionaries are captured by a Burmese army brigade. Smooth move, Chappelle.
Rambo learns of their capture a week later from another missionary that just shows up in Thailand, who also informs Rambo that a team of mercenaries have been hired to rescue the churchies. Yet another case of the Christian right's alliance with the Republican Party paying off --- easy access to mercenaries. Rambo is hired to take these gun-toting mini-Rambos up the river, and surprise surprise, they end up being an ethnically diverse cast of miscreants. There's a fiery British guy, a.k.a. Poor Man's Vinnie Jones. A Hispanic guy. An Asian guy. A redneck southerner. A laid-back British sniper played by Matthew Marsden, best known for his role as Sizemore in Black Hawk Down, which makes one immediately think he'll survive and end up as Rambo's buddy. They're joined by a Thai guide and his son, but upon reaching the dropoff point, Rambo is told to wait with the boat. So he does, and we spend the next 45 minutes watching Stallone sharpen a knife, do some boat maintenance and pick daisies until the mercenaries return. Wait....
So of course Rambo follows along and after wreaking some havoc with a crossbow, eventually ends up leading the mercenaries into their six-on-100 mission against the Burmese army base and its leader, General Disorder (they never actually gave him a name, so I made one up). While I had no doubt Rambo could've taken 100 men with a hand tied behind his back, the group decided to use stealth, and snuck in at night to rescue the few surviving missionaries while the soldiers were drunkenly partying. It seemed to me that Rambo could've just planed some C-4 until the mess hall and wiped out a good three-quarters of the opposing force right there, but then the movie would've ended even quicker than my 'Rambo waits by the boat' director's cut.
So with about an hour's lead time, the team splits up and heads back to the boat, with the army in hot pursuit. Things devolve into some pretty impressive violence. You may recall from the trailer a great shot of Rambo slowly rising up behind some poor guy --- the payoff to that scene is wonderful. Something I noticed about the film is that it isn't just bloody, it's meaty. In just about every case of a body being shot, gutted or blown up, you see not just the spewing of blood, but you see a limb of what's left of a torso flying by the wayside. This serves two purposes. First, when the soldiers are killing innocent villagers, it makes the deaths all the more barbaric. Second, when Rambo is killing the soldiers, it makes the deaths all the more awesome.
In the end, Rambo returns to America and his father's ranch. At least I presume it was his father --- the name on the mailbox read 'R. Rambo.' I got the idea in my head that his father's name was Rambo Rambo, which made me laugh out loud in the theatre. I guess it could've also been Rambo's long-lost brother living on the ranch, which could've paved the way for a Frank Stallone cameo. But anyway, Rambo is back in America and he's got to be pretty pleased. His fellow Nam buddy John McCain is a senator in his native Arizona, so I can only expect the next Rambo film to feature Stallone serving as Johnny Mac's head of security. His next challenge won't be the Burmese military, but rather trying to find dirt on Mitt Romney.
It would've been amazing if, instead of going to the ranch, Rambo had just kept going into town, been accosted by locals and the sheriff and forced into the local wilderness, and the entire scenario from First Blood repeated itself. The Rambo series would then continue on indefinitely with Rambo going on a circuit from the US to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Burma in 30-year cycles. Rambo would never age, as it would be established that while in Nam, Rambo at some point drank from the Holy Grail.
The movie is, of course, ridiculous. But it has some decent action and if nothing else, at least this time Rambo isn't in Afghanistan helping the Taliban. The film actually provides a pretty respectable portrayal of Christian missionaries, as Benz and company are shown to be genuine about helping the Burmese villagers rather than just trying to convert them. See, this is all part of Sly's marketing plan for the movie. He saw the money that Passion of the Christ pulled in by appealing to church-goers, and he figured, "Hey, religion + gory violence equals enough money to fill a fjord!" Sly Stallone is, if nothing else, a businessman.