Stop! Or My Grandad Will Shoot

Following his creaking return to the ring for 2006’s geriatric Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone scours his dwindling back catalogue to bring us another preposterously violent Rambo, an unrequested follower-upper that arrives twenty years down the line from his trilogy of Cold War action movies, to a changed cinematic world.

The Soviets are gone now, even Castro has retired, and so, seeking a simple backdrop for his blood-lust, the sixty-odd Stallone pitches up in Northern Thailand, next door to Burma, where a civil war has raged for sixty years. John Rambo, the post-traumatic Green Beret, has a job snaring cobras for the local snake-handling show, and lives alone on a river boat were he spends his evenings perfecting his thousand yard stare while revisiting his past in a series of moody montages. Like Bogart in Casablanca, Rambo hides his righteous anger behind a set mask of cynical indifference, but when a troupe of gospel-quoting do-gooders arrive on the dock requesting he take them across the river to do their good works in Burma, the façade cracks.

Or at least I think it does. It’s hard to tell with Stallone. In any event, when the dangerous crossing goes wrong and the Christians are captured by the evil Military Junta, Rambo vows to rescue them. Mumbling wildly about right and wrong, Rambo hammers a machete out of scrap iron and straps his trademark bow and arrow across his now-flabby back before setting out. Over a thudding score of ominous kettle-drums, he transports a crack squad of grizzled ex-SAS mercenaries into the danger-zone, where he hangs around long enough to watch them make their first mistake and affect a rescue that proves his worth to the mission.

All this takes maybe twenty minutes and none of it is new or particularly interesting. But, from this point on, Stallone’s film degenerates into a red soup of eye-watering violence, more a training aid for military surgeons than any classification of entertainment. As a director, Stallone has only a basic grasp of storytelling and lacks any insight into character but he knows how to stage a massacre. Once he starts, he doesn’t stop. Rambo contains 236 separate depictions of death, more than two per minute and none from natural causes. We see children stabbed with bayonets, grenades turning people into an abstraction of limbs, lingering disembowelments, bombings, strangulations and coup de theatre flamethrower roasting. For the big finish, Rambo straps himself on to a machine gun and bisects the advancing hoards of soldiers that stand between him and his allies in twenty minute battle scene that redefines bombast.

Ignoring for a moment his film’s basic ugliness and passing over it’s indebtedness to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Stallone would have us believe that his intention in making another Rambo was to highlight the genocide of the Burmese people by the ruling military junta. In fact, he attempts to make the case against slaughter by shamelessly staging a slaughter, and a particularly senseless one. Although the mumbling Stallone might think he is being clever, using real-life news footage of last year’s protest by Buddhist monks as an overture and speechifying about the 60 year civil war, his base film is pornographically stupid; a dreary, chest-puffing exercise in jingoistic carnage hiding behind a unconvincing human-rights platform.

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