Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rambo (2008)

* Not, to my surprise, the unintentionally funny fiasco expected from the adverts (especially the Interent red-band trailers); instead, Sylester Stallone's latest is mostly a decent, economically paced action film. Blood and thunder rule the day, but the hyperbolic violence meshes surprisingly well with the downcast, almost mournful tone that dominates the film's first two acts.

* Much in the vein of what I understand Rocky Balboa to be, this is in part an old man, maybe a bit past his prime, indulging himself in a bit of ambivalent nostalgia. Stallone is examining one of his iconic characters, trying to get down into him and find out what it means to be John Rambo, man of war without a country to call home. Coming from an actor who himself has to be feeling a bit displaced in the modern action-film landscape, I can't lie and say I wasn't a bit stirred by it all.

* Notable is the reconception of the lone-wolf Rambo. Here his solitude, his go-it-alone nature, has turned against him and made him an outcast from society. His isolation, in essence, strips him of his heroism. It's only through teaming up with the soldiers of fortune he escorts down the river that he can regain his place as American Crusader.

* Remember when the idea of Sylvester Stallone, director, conjured up shivers and frightening visions of Staying Alive? He's apparently improved a bit since then. Direction is tough, fast with just the right touch of chaos & shaky-cam. It's not awards-calibur, but it's pretty tight genre expertise. Every now and then, too, Stallone finds an unexpectedly poetic image, like the burning village reflected in the opaque glasses of the evil Burmese general.

* Major weakness is the depiction of the villainous Burmese armada. It's all well and proper to show their savagery; in particular, the gambit with the mines is pretty brilliant, establishing their loathsomeness without dialogue in the span of a couple of minutes. (It gets even better when Stallone shows it again and translates the dialogue this time, thus providing context to what's actually happening.) But true to his meat-and-potatoes origin in the good-evil dichotomy of the Reagan era, Stallone pushes too hard to make them less like humans and more like animals. The initmations of pederasty by the evil general are especially ill-advised, as they have no bearing on the plot and serve only to make the general more hissable and hateable. It's films like this that make me appreciate what Werner Herzog did in Rescue Dawn all the more.

* While Stallone shows a surprising facility for images, his dialogue is often clunky and forced. This is only exacerbated by the modestly talented cast of relative unknowns that populate the film. Some of these lines (I'm thinking in particular of anything that stumbles out of the mouth of Paul Schulze) come off as nigh well undeliverable.

* Action climax: holy shit. Pure vicious adrenaline, a stunning release of carnage after the slow boil of acts one and two. I was impressed the most by the way Rambo uses a long-dormant bomb, but the heralded jeep-gun massacre was also pretty jaw-dropping. Best of all, Stallone had the good sense to excise the instantly-notorious decapitation-by-fist that was featured in the red-band previews -- that would have tilted the film directly into camp.

Grade: B-


Blogger James said...

I got a lot of comments from people who read my review and thought I hated it, only to see that I gave it a 3.5 out of 5. My response? It's hard not to ridicule parts of it, but it's an extremely well done example of what it is, and even pretty poignant at times.

Of course, I love guns, and I that finale really did the trick for me. Did you notice that there weren't a bunch of parts where people shoot assault rifles at Rambo and no one hits him? Stallone has clearly paid attention to the action films of the past 20 years and updated his style accordingly. I suspect his remaining years could be well spent as a director, perhaps even exclusively of action films.

4:08 AM  

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