I will confess upfront that I have never seen a Rambo movie before — yes, there are serious gaps in my film education. I’m sorry. But I was with this new incarnation for a goodly while, partly because it’s lean and spare and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa) is so damn surprisingly good at being an iceberg: 10 percent rock-solid implacability on the surface and 90 percent hidden and unexpected depths. That’s exactly where his John Rambo, Vietnam vet now lying low in Thailand, is, until a group of American missionaries comes through looking for a ride upriver into wartorn Burma. Stallone — who wrote and directs — gives us a merciless and graphic look at the brutality of the civil war there (it’s more like genocide), but then he doesn’t know where to go from there. Spare is good: so spare that essentials are missing is not. Rambo’s detachment and cynicism is challenged by the missionaries’ dedication to a seemingly hopeless cause, but much of the subtext Stallone seems to believe is present isn’t, and so his transformation from a man who doesn’t care into one who does is perplexing in its context. The only place to go from there is into cruel and pointless action-movie violence, when — inevitably — the missionaries require rescue from the vicious Burmese military junta. I say “pointless” because the film fails even in its apparent goal of underlining the idea that only brutal men can fight brutal men. That’d be a conclusion I’d disagree with, if the movie were able to cohere around it, but all it seems capable of managing is bodily mutilation in the name of supposed morality.
(Technorati tags: Rambo, Sylvester Stallone)