Hard on the heels of ROCKY BALBOA (2006), which picked up Sylvester Stallone's signature character 15 years after the last entry in the series, Stallone resurrected traumatized Vietnam-veteran John Rambo after a 20-year hiatus. And if not what's generally meant by the term "good movie," the result is the farthest thing from a bland, spineless sequel imaginable: It's a brutal, insanely excessive successor to grindhouse pictures of yore.
Rambo has again retreated to the jungles of Thailand from which he was plucked to meddle in Afghan affairs in the cartoonish RAMBO III. He lives alone, makes a meager living selling snakes to a seedy tourist trap and keeps his nightmares to himself until a quintet of humanitarians from Christ Church of Colorado comes looking for a ride upriver into Burma (Mayanmar). They hope to bring medical supplies and care to the beleaguered Karen people, victims of decades of genocidal persecution by Burma's military dictatorship. Rambo refuses, but after earnest missionary miss Sarah (Julie Benz) pleads their case -- "Maybe you've lost your faith in people," she says, "but you must believe in something" – Rambo relents and drops them off within hiking distance of impoverished Kaw Kbe Lo village. Shortly after the do-gooders arrive, Burmese soldiers under the command of sadistic homosexual child rapist General Tint (Maung Maung Khin, ironically a real-life resistance fighter) viciously slaughter the locals and kidnap the Americans.
Two weeks later, Pastor Marsh (Ken Howard) appears at Rambo's door, having suspended his conscience long enough to hire five mercenaries -- cynical Lewis (Graham McTavish), redneck Reese (Jake La Botz), disillusioned Diaz (Rey Gallegos), enigmatic En-Joo (Tim Kang) and the oddly idealistic School Boy (Matthew Marsden) -- to rescue his flock. But he still needs someone to ferry them into Burma, where a Karen freedom fighter (Aung Aay Noi) will direct then them to General Tint's encampment, a jungle hell of rape, torture and capricious killing. Naturally, Rambo joins the fray, which begins with an audacious raid on the camp and ends in the kind of bloodbath that defines the term "Hard R." The film is gore-spattered atrocity show in the seamy tradition of socially conscious Italian shockers like THE LAST SURVIVOR (1977) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), right down to the opening montage of newsreel footage of bloated bodies and mutilated children. Whether Rambo fans really want to be educated about genocide in Burma is doubtful, and it's a pretty safe bet that supporters of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival would prefer not to see the issues cloaked in action-movie drag. But it's not dull, and FIRST BLOOD's notorious unused suicide ending is cleverly repurposed as a B&W flashback that helps define the extent of Rambo's damage. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh