To the Rescue

'Rambo' isn't awful, but it's not great--and Stallone looks completely ridiculous

Sylvester Stallone's ornery, isolated Vietnam vet gets dead-serious in Rambo, the fourth and probably final adventure for Sly's '80s icon. Fans might find enough to cheer about, while Rambo naysayers will keep decrying this character's very existence.

The film picks up 20 years after the last Rambo adventure, with our hero tending to snakes in Thailand for a crazy cobra show. Whiny missionaries show up and ask the overgrown bandana man to take them upriver to Burma in his boat, Apocalypse Now-style, Rambo tells them no; Burma is a war zone, and unless the missionaries are packing some heavy artillery, they ain't gonna change a thing with the word of God. Rambo has become super-jaded in his older age.

But despite his initial resistance, Rambo is easily persuaded by the hot woman in the group (Julie Benz). He escorts them up river, where they are dropped off to start some sort of Burmese Sunday school--and they promptly get their asses kicked. Shortly thereafter, a pastor (Ken Howard) asks Rambo to join some mercenaries and bring back the flock. After some quick, requisite brooding, Rambo agrees.

My main problem with the film involves the missionary group and the way they are portrayed. They come off as annoying little bitches, and while I could see most authority figures having sympathy for them and mounting a rescue, the defining characteristic of John Rambo is his intense isolationism. The way Stallone sets up Rambo's bad attitude this time out, there just doesn't seem to be enough of a reason for him to suddenly swing into action. Other than the fact that Julie Benz is pretty gosh-darned pretty.

The film is fast and furious when it gets rolling, but that's for just a few minutes of its running time. Too much time is spent with the terribly portrayed missionaries, who all deliver one-note performances thanks in part to the poor dialogue penned by Mr. Stallone. As for the rescue-mission mercenaries, they are nothing but a bunch of cartoon cutouts.

When Rambo finally starts doing very

bad things to very bad people, the film lights

up--not enough to save it, but enough to keep it from being a complete waste of time. This is the most violent Rambo film yet. Bullets don't just penetrate flesh. Heads burst; limbs fly off; entrails are sent airborne.

And the years haven't been kind to Rambo. He's gone from beefcake to the equivalent of an Arby's giant shredded super roast-beef sandwich. When he's seen pouring scoops of liquid on snakes, I expected him to pour one over his head in order to marinate himself. Stallone looked OK in Rocky Balboa, but he's too big in Rambo. Lately, he's been heralding the wonders using human-growth hormone, but he looks like the Cloverfield monster in this movie.

Much of the action in past Rambo films, especially the second and third, was done tongue-in-cheek with a sense of humor. But in the current installment, opportunities to laugh are few and far between. The Burma situation--set up at the film's beginning with actual newsreel footage of atrocities--is no laughing matter. The movie wants to be ugly and unpleasant, and it succeeds.

I like the prior Rambo movies in the order that they were released. First Blood (1982) is my favorite; Rambo: First Blood Part II is my second; and Rambo III takes third. I had fun with those films, and I didn't have enough fun with this one.

While I'm not at all unhappy to have seen this movie, and I did enjoy it on some levels, I can't recommend it. It's cool to see Rambo again, but the folks surrounding him are major irritants. Plus, there isn't one real Rambo crooked-mouthed primal scream in this movie. That's like beer without the bubbles!

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