Can you really go home again? John J. Rambo does so figuratively and literally in this incredibly bloody movie. RAMBO, the fourth in a series that began with the terrific FIRST BLOOD (1982), but has been absent from screens since 1988's RAMBO III, has the simplest screenplay of any of them, and times out at a lean 80 minutes or so (plus closing crawl). In a nutshell, Rambo (writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone, as if you didn't know), now a lonesome cobra wrangler in Thailand, is approached by American missionaries to take them into war-torn Burma on his boat. He does, against his better judgment, and when the missionaries are eventually kidnapped by some real bastards, Rambo only slightly less reluctantly agrees to accompany some mercenaries into the jungle on a rescue mission.
RAMBO is one of the goriest R-rated films ever released, making SAVING PRIVATE RYAN look like SGT. BILKO. Frankly, I can't figure the MPAA ratings board. If the splatter on display here isn't graphic enough for an NC-17, then I can't imagine what is. Unfortunately, Nu Image, the production company that made its name shooting dozens of direct-to-video action and horror flicks in Bulgaria, cheaped out on the gore effects. Instead of using squibs and makeup, Nu Image hired the same Bulgarians who did CROCODILE 2 and SHARK ATTACK 3 to perform the CGI decapitations and limb removals. When will Hollywood learn that computer graphics will never be an improvement over physical effects? Perhaps the action was moving so fast, Stallone and Nu Image thought nobody would notice. It appears the MPAA didn't.
To be honest, I thought the violence in RAMBO was too brutal, for the most part. It's a simplistic action flick, nothing more, and while it succeeds at making the villains so damn hateful that you cheer when Rambo shows up to waste them, the opening violence was so realistic that it ceased to be "fun," if you know what I mean. It's curious how these movies have become politicized over the years, particularly during the 1980s, when President Reagan proclaimed that Rambo must have been a Republican. The irony is that the character is an expatriate with little love for the country that let him down after the Vietnam War and literally left him to die in the Vietnamese jungle years later. If anybody "hates America," it's John Rambo.
Still, Stallone is a talented action director, and it would be interesting to see what he could do with a film that he wasn't acting in. He unquestionably stages more dynamic action sequences than, say, Christopher Nolan and Doug Liman, not that anyone is going to be brave enough to give Sly a Batman movie to direct. Outside of Stallone, no other cast member or character really has much to do. The lead antagonist doesn't even have a name, as far as I could tell, and the film's most familiar supporting actor, Ken Howard (THE WHITE SHADOW), appears in just one scene. Of course, the movie is called RAMBO after all, so perhaps it can be forgiven.