Body count, limbs pile up in ‘Rambo’

It’s been 20 years since his last mission on the big screen, but Sylvester Stallone is finally back as ex-Green Beret and Vietnam veteran John Rambo in the eponymous "Rambo."

In the same way that the critically successful "Rocky Balboa" recently revived Sly’s other big franchise, "Rambo" is good enough to warrant a return to this unstoppable killing machine, though fans may be surprised by what unfolds.

Just to get any worries out the way: Stallone may be 61 years old, but he is still able to slide into the skin of John Rambo as well as he could in the Reagan era. Stallone’s a bit slower and heavier than his younger self, but he’s still in good shape and doesn’t force the character to appear shirtless or run marathons through the jungle.

The other actors in the film are generally mediocre and don’t do much to make viewers care for the characters. The real force keeping the pace moving is Stallone. He is Rambo and you will not doubt it as he wields his signature bow, a homemade machete, or a turreted machine gun, carving swaths through waves of bad guys.

He’s no pushover as the film’s co-writer and director, either.

"Rambo" opens with a shocking montage of violent real-life footage of the terror and warfare that the military government of Burma (officially Myanmar) has dealt its own people in the Karen ethnic group. According to the film, Karen peasants and farmers have faced the wrath of their government for over 50 years as part of the longest-running civil war in history, fought between Karen rebels and the Burmese military.

The story then begins with a scene of five Karen people being forced to run through a rice paddy laced with mines by a sadistic group of military oppressors. Stallone doesn’t allow his camera to waver from the sight as a geyser of blood and guts that just seconds before was a person explodes into the sky. The rest of the victims are torn to pieces by bullets seconds later.

After this harrowing intro, John Rambo is introduced as a snake wrangler and boatman working on the Thai side of the Burma-Thailand border.

A group of Christian missionaries from Colorado approaches Rambo to make their regular excursion into Burma where they provide a village of suffering Karen with medical supplies. It takes some convincing from a pretty face in the group, Sarah Miller (Julie Benz), to make the gruff hero grudgingly agree to transport them.

Everything goes wrong from there. After a violent encounter with river pirates, whom Rambo easily disposes, the missionary group arrives safely at their Karen village destination only to later be attacked and narrowly survive a massacre as military prisoners.

Rambo then has to return up river with a group of mercenaries and spends the majority of the film saving the missionaries and wreaking havoc on every Burmese soldier he finds.

Stallone wants viewers to see that war is real, ugly and frequently visited upon the innocent. The "slow genocide" of helpless Karen people in Burma is shown graphically in a scene of the Karen village being mowed down, gutted and hacked to bloody pieces by the military. No Karen peasant or audience member is spared.

This series has always been very violent (though almost cartoonlike in its excess) and like the others before it, "Rambo" uses a political and social background for its relentless carnage. Unlike earlier installments, however, Stallone’s use of violence in "Rambo" is singularly realistic, vivid and disturbing to the point that even gore lovers and action flick fanatics who entered the movie ready to cheer for dismemberment may be shocked.

The R-rated "Rambo" reaffirms that the only thing that truly fazes the MPAA when rating a film is sexual content, as "Rambo" deserves an NC-17. "Saving Private Ryan" and others pale in comparison to "Rambo." You’d have to look in the horror genre to find as many grisly killings.

The second half develops into another of the character’s delightful, turn-your-brain-off killing sprees against easily-hated, broadly-painted villains. It’s pure action movie glee, and the violence, when turned around on the oppressors, is enjoyable and sure to draw cheers as in previous Rambo films.

It’s undeniably exciting and tense, but also simplistic and neglectful of the "big issue" of Burmese genocide with which it started. Stallone makes the tonal shift irrelevant, however, with solid pacing and plenty of things that go BOOM!

Viewers and Rambo fans who can accept the film for what it really is (the definitive bloody action film) will be rewarded with the visceral violence they crave. Anyone else need not apply.

Acting: B-

Story: B

Special Effects/Gore: A

Overall: B+

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Title: Body count, limbs pile up in ‘Rambo’ | Author: Paul Comrie | Section: Features | Published Date: 2008-01-30 | Internal ID: 6252