Director    Sylvester Stallone
Starring    Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Reynaldo Gallegos
Release    25 JAN (US) 22 FEB (UK)    Certificate 18
2 stars


26th February 2008

Rambo is better than Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rambo III. Which is kind of like saying being punched in the face until you black out is better than having your foot sawn off by a hedgetrimmer. Rambo is The Blacksploitation Flick of the Noughties. Twenty years after the monumentally stupid Rambo III (dedicated to the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, or the Taliban to you and me), Sly packs his muscles and his glares up for a fourth, pointless instalment in this intellectually-shrinking set of films.

Put bluntly, Rambo is 81 minutes of moronic nonsense, posturing under the guise of being a brave, revelatory political statement about oppression. Such justification is at best, a fairly desperate attempt to explain a film that is 40 minutes of insane and bloody violence, and 40 minutes of brooding and staring.

Make no mistake: it's a pleasant relief to have an action film that is not only rated 18, but actually bloody deserves it. Audiences are bored of sanitised CGI bullshit, and hyper-censored, gutless nonsense that deludes itself as an 'action' film. Most modern action films are preposterous bollocks loaded with impossible physics and laughable moments. The only draw here is the relatively realistic violence: bullet impacts decimate and the gore flows freer than any torture porn slasher flick. After 80 minutes, and 234 onscreen deaths, the blood is quite literally a ceaseless torrent of carnage and meat that ends up numbing the viewer. Oh, another death. Big deal.

It doesn't help that Rambo aside, each character is a barely functional, shallow cipher; a plot puppet that exists solely to push our war machine to the next set-piece. The morally-challenged Christians who turn to violence; the cycnical, bitter mercenaries built on bullshit posturing; the wafer thin Bad Guy lacking in motive - each of their fates is mercilessly telegraphed from the first second they appear, and the predictable story sees each of these fates inevitably played out akin to some fulfilling prophecy.

Rambo's only redeeming feature is the ceaseless adrenalin rush of violence that is deeply reminiscent of old fashioned war films: in the days before everything was test-screened and demographicised to a bland, featureless, identical morass of cynical bullshit. Stallone sleepwalks his way through the role with a resigned calm, aware that at some point inevitably he has to explode into a cataclysm of apocalyptic violence. And what glorious, unnecessary violence it is. The intelligent and mature moral curve of Rocky Balboa is obliterated in a tidal wave of incoherent moral posturing (War Is Bad, But Rambo Is War On Legs, The Burmese Are Awful, 234 Wrongs Do Make A Right, etc.) that ultimately make Rambo a narrative mess.

Small mercies: the whole thing is over in 81 minutes. There's plenty to be said for an economy of filmmaking that overrides modern film's tendency to drag everything out half an hour longer than needs be. But Rambo is too slight a film, and barely aware of its moral compass, to carry any such gravitas. It deserves recognition for attempting to be beyond the usual McGuffin-plot of modern, lowest-common-denominator, CGI-heavy, childish bullshit. But it also deserves to be damned for thoroughly failing to elevate itself beyond the usual, mundane matchbox philosophy of your average war film. What most people call Home, he may call Hell, but Rambo is a triumph of ambition over ability, and ultimately a thoroughly predictable cinematic failure.

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