Rambo & r & & r & by BEN KROMER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & o paraphrase an Indiana Jones tagline, "If cinematic carnage has a name, it must be John Rambo." That's what we expect from Rambo, even if the man who plays him is grotesquely old now. Stallone wears a poncho for most of this movie, presumably because abs of steel tend to fade if you spend two decades motor boating around Thailand catching snakes, as Rambo has apparently been doing since his last adventure in Afghanistan.
Rambo opens with a montage of real-life Burmese atrocities, then somewhat redundantly goes into movie mode for a scene of the bad guys gunning down peasants. Using either the documentary montage or the execution scene would have made the point but the movie uses both, which is a pretty good indication of what the rest will be like. I'd like to point out that eventually there will be a very serious movie about genocide in Burma, and we'll all feel very bad for not caring enough at the time, and we'll also feel pretty stupid when we realize Sylvester Stallone cared before the rest of Hollywood did.
Rambo still needs some cajoling to get back into action. He's a reluctant hero who stays out of trouble until a group of dumb white missionaries intrudes on his quiet Thai lifestyle. Rambo and a pretty blond missionary share the most stupefying dialogue I've heard since, say, Armageddon. In fact, most of the earnest language used in Rambo grates on the ears. Obviously Stallone is trying to recapture the magic of Rambo's earlier catchphrases such as "Murdoch ... I'm comin' for you," and "I'm your worst nightmare," and "Do we get to win this time?" as well as his impassioned soliloquies about Vietnam. And Rambo's most famous line: "AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHRR!" The new Rambo has lines like, "When you're pushed ... killing's as easy as breathing" and "Live for nothing or die for something," statements that are so general it's almost as if he could be talking about something other than the movie he's in (though I don't know what). Stallone should have stuck with the yelling.
Eventually Rambo, beat down and put upon as always, agrees to take the missionaries to a village in Burma, where they are promptly slaughtered and taken prisoner by a meth-addled, pedophiliac bad man. He's bad, of course, just for murdering people -- but the pedophilia and the drug addiction just make his eventual death more enjoyable, because that's the kind of movie this is. Pretty soon Rambo is on another rescue mission, backed up by a group of international mercenaries.
I was on the fence about this new, old Rambo until the end, which -- I hope I'm not giving too much away here -- is a redemptive blood bath. There's a genuine evolution on display: Whereas in the 1980s, shooting people with machine guns made them fall down and die, today they explode. (Not to mention all the fun had here with decapitation and explosive dismemberment.)
Rambo is premiering in theaters at the same time that Once, that lovely film about sensitive artists singing and loving one another, is also available on DVD. Unless you are thoroughly and completely enamored with cinematic bloodlust, you'll get more out of watching Once. But if you like your blood and guts, then know this: Rambo has a finale worthy of The Wild Bunch. (Rated R)