Rambo (2008)

Shamelessly exploitative and utterly senseless, “Rambo,” the fourth chapter in the action franchise that began 25 years ago with “First Blood,” is such a muddled and cartoonish picture that it doesn't even qualify as a popcorn flick, or cheesy actioner.

At 61, Stallone is desperate to revitalize his career with the two film series that put him on the movie map: “Rocky” and “Rambo.” And while the latest Rocky saga was watchable and even commercial, the new Rambo chapter is so detached from the zeitgeist that it's hard to predict who will see the movie beyond Stallone's hardcore fans.

The “Rambo” film series, which jointly have grossed $615 million worldwide, were always as commercial overseas as they were domestically. The most successful–and best–of the three films made was the 1985 “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” which was directed by George Cosmatos and co-scripted by Stallone and James Cameron, before the later became an A-list director.

However, it's worth noting that in 1988, the third installment was far more profitable internationally than stateside (70 percent of its grosses came from foreign markets), indicating that the series has run out of steam with American viewers.

In the name of creative control, Stallone is the director, co-writer, and star, which means that all the faults of the picture rest on his well-preserved but aging body; it's the first film that Sly is not stripped to his waist.

The screenplay is replete of clichs, beginning with the “new” incarnation of Rambo as a mythic character, a solitary primitive warrior-and now reluctant hero–who refuses to fight anymore.

Twenty years after the last film in the series, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has retreated to northern Thailand, where he's running a longboat on the Salween River. On the nearby Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border, the world's longest-running civil war, the Burmese-Karen conflict, rages into its 60th year.

Alert viewers will resent the cynical, self-serving use of the decades-long Burmese civil war as a backdrop for a vapid and violent actioner, a reactionary moviea retro that belongs to the Reagan era of the 1980s, when the series was popular–that pretends to be political relevant by exploiting an actual, bloody conflict, in which numerous people had lost their lives.

It's legitimate to ask why set the yarn in Burma
Stallone and his producers acknowledge that
former scripts for this sequel had been set against “well-known conflicts,” such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia, and even Darfur. The star says he wanted to find “a less obvious backdrop, set in one of the word's lesser-known areas of conflict.”

To find his new context, Stallone called “Soldier of Fortune” magazine and the United Nations, asking them, to use his own words, “What's the most under-reported, most graphic and devastating abuse of human rights on the planet” The unanimous answer was Burma.

Hence, the decision to focus “Rambo” on the particular conflict within Burma between the Karen ethnic tribe, a minority group, and Burma's ruling military junta, which assumed control of the country after the collapse of British colonialism at the end of WWII. For 60 years, the Karen have been fighting to establish an autonomous state while suffering a brutal and systematic genocide conducted by the Burmese government.

Living a quiet, simple life in the mountains and jungles, Rambo spends his time fishing and catching poisonous snakes to sell. He has long given up fighting, disregarding the medics, mercenaries, rebels and peace workers who pass by on their way to the war-torn region.

Things change, when a group of human rights missionaries search out the “American river guide” John Rambo. When Sarah (Julie Benz, of the TV show “Dexter”) and Michael Bennett (Paul Schulze) approach Rambo, they explain that, since last year's trek to the refugee camps, the Burmese military has laid landmines along the road, making it too dangerous for overland travel.

They ask Rambo to guide them up the Salween and drop them off, so they can deliver medical supplies and food to the Karen tribe. After initially refusing to cross into Burma, Rambo takes them, dropping off Sarah, Michael and the aid workers.

Two weeks later, the pastor Arthur Marsh (Ken Howard) tells Rambo that the aid workers did not return and the embassies have not helped locate them. He tells Rambo he's mortgaged his home and raised money from his congregation to hire mercenaries to get the missionaries, who are being held captive by the Burmese army. Although the U.S. military trained him to be a lethal super soldier in Vietnam, Rambo's objection to violence and his reluctance to conflict are palpable. You see his scars are faded, yet still visible.

A man's got to do what's a man's got to do, and hence our lone warrior knows what he must do. As scripter, Stallone would like us to believe that this Rambo is about regaining one's true identity, about his hero finding himself and finding his way home, in other words, bringing Rambo back again to the man he was. But Rambo was always a comicstrip creation, never a real (or realistic) character in any dramatic sense.

“Rambo” was shot on location in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mercifully, the picture's running time is only 91 minutes, including end credits.

Cast

John Rambo – Sylvester Stallone
Sarah – Julie Benz
Burnett – Paul Schulze
School Boy – Matthew Marsden
Lewis – Graham McTavish
En-Joo – Tim Kang
Diaz – Rey Gallegos
Reese – Jake La Botz
Tint – Maung Maung Khin
Arthur Marsh – Ken Howard

Credits

A Lionsgate release presented in association with Millennium Films of a Nu Image production for Equity Pictures Medienfonds GMBH & Co. Produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, John Thompson.
Executive producers: Jon Feltheimer, Peter Block, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Danny Dimbort, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short, Andreas Thiesmeyer, Florian Lechner, Randall Emmett, George Furla.
Co-producers: Josef Lautenschlager, Joachim Sturmes.
Directed by Sylvester Stallone.
Screenplay, Art Monterastelli, Stallone, based on the character created by David Morrell.
Camera: Glen MacPherson.
Editor: Sean Albertson.
Music: Brian Tyler; music supervisor, Ashley Miller.
Production designer: Franco-Giacomo Carbone.
Art director: Kuladee Suchatanun.
Set decorator: Witoon Suanyai.
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf.
Sound: Greg Chapman; supervising sound editors, Barney Cabral, Perry Robertson, Scott Sanders. Visual effects supervisor: Wes Caefer.
Special effects supervisors: Alex Gunn, Rangsun Rangsimaporn.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 91 Minutes.