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Rambo (2008)


What do you do when Tinseltown no longer cares for your career, when your latest attempts at an artistic renaissance or cultural relevancy have failed miserably? Well, if you’re one time box office king Sylvester Stallone, you cannibalize your past and hope that someone out there in film geek nation still cares. After 2006’s Rocky Balboa proved that audiences could cotton to a self-referential return to former glory, a post-Planet Hollywood Stallone decided pissed off Vietnam Vet John Rambo was due for a comeback. Of course, the main question in everyone’s mind was, after three previous installments of the mercenary and mayhem series, could the actor bring anything new to the show?

The answer is yes, and it’s painted in glorious clots of deep, deep red. When a group of goody-two-shoes religious types get caught up in the middle of Burma’s brutal civil war, a reluctant reverend (Ken Howard) seeks out soldier-turned-snake wrangler John Rambo for help. Seems he wants to send some paid ‘professionals’ in to retrieve his flock, and since our hero guided the original tour into enemy territory, he’s the best man to lead this latest incursion. Of course, when the hired help proves woefully egotistical, Rambo steps up to show them the proper way to kick bad guy butt. Besides, he has been ‘spiritually’ touched by the sole female member, an idealist named Sarah (Julie Benz). He must then break into a heavily-guarded compound and save her and her friends before a corrupt local General throws them to his collection of flesh-eating pigs, among other inhuman tortures.

Make no mistake about it, this is the real ‘gorno.’ This is SCTV‘s Billy Sol Hurok and Big Jim McBob’s wettest of dreams. Things blow up in Rambo. They blow up real good. Stallone has taken the forgotten skill of human detonation and turned it into an art form. Thanks to the gallons of red goo, the bountiful barrels of blood, what should be dull turns slyly diabolical. You can just imagine our steroided 61-year-old sitting behind the camera, his surgery-tweaked face smiling from ear to ear as a massive machine gun literally cuts special effects extras in half.

Rambo is a pleasure of the guiltiest, most gratuitous kind. It’s the typical heroes and villains formula on human growth hormones, laced with crack. It satisfies one’s instinctual Neanderthal bloodlust and busts as many taboos as it embraces. This is a movie that blows big holes in kids during commonplace village raids, where angry goon squads lop limbs off the elderly and rape the ladies — both before and after they’re dead. Rambo, unlike everyone around him, embraces this truth. He’s the lunatic fringe voice of reason in a realm where logic left sanity standing at the altar. His response is the most reasoned — get in there and screw things up.

And that’s exactly what this mindless action movie does. The plot may just be a setup followed by splatterific payoff, but when you’re dealing with a one-dimensional death machine like Rambo, disemboweling, dismemberment, and decapitation are all the depth that’s required.