Burmese days, Rambo-style

Rambo may be ridicu­lous, but Sly de­liv­ers the gra­tu­itously vi­o­lent goods, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

RAMBO Di­rected by Sylvester Stal­lone. Star­ring Sylvester Stal­lone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Mars­den, Gra­ham McTavish 18 cert, gen re­lease, 91 min

AL­MOST ex­actly 12 months ago, when re­view­ing the most re­cent Rocky film, I promised to eat my own head if the pic­ture then pro­vi­sion­ally ti­tled Rambo IV: Pearl of the Co­bra did not suck. On bal­ance, I reckon I can just about get away with­out scoop­ing lumps out of my sorry face. Only just, though.

It can’t be de­nied that the fourth film in the cy­cle has an ap­palling in­tegrity to it. Twenty years af­ter the lum­ber­ing war­rior, by wad­ing in with Afghani mu­jahideen, helped in­vent the mod­ern ver­sion of mil­i­tant Is­lam, he once more straps on his head­band and sets out to pacify a trou­bled cor­ner of Asia. By “pacify” we, of course, mean an­ni­hi­late, dec­i­mate, ex­tin­guish and lay waste.

If you want a mea­sured anal­y­sis of the trou­bled state of Burma – yes, Burma – then take your­self round to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. Rambo films are in the busi­ness of or­ches­trat­ing may­hem in such a way as to make lit­tle men feel mighty and, my word, this film ob­serves its re­mit.

One John Mueller, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Ohio State Univer­sity, has, ap­par­ently, cal­cu­lated that some 236 peo­ple are sent to their mak­ers in Rambo. That works out at 3.04 deaths per minute.

Well, I wouldn’t want to ques­tion the pro­fes­sor’s method­ol­ogy, but he ap­pears to be sug­gest­ing that, from time to time, a full 20 sec­onds pass with­out any­body be­ing butchered. What film was he watch­ing? Stal­lone kills the fas­cist sol­diers in threes, fours and fives. He drags ma­chetes across their ab­domens. He rips the heads from their shoul­ders with ma­chine gun fire. In one par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable se­quence, he quite lit­er­ally tears out a gen­eral’s wind­pipe with his bare hands. Maybe that should have read 3.04 deaths per sec­ond.

Draw­ing su­per­fi­cial in­flu­ences from such im­mea­sur­ably su­pe­rior films as Apoc­a­lypse Now, Sav­ing Private Ryan and Apoca­lypto, Stal­lone the di­rec­tor brings a stud­ied messi­ness to the ac­tion that com­pares favourably with the Rea­gan­ite mon­u­men­tal­ism of the ear­lier pic­tures. As AC/DC might have it, if you want blood, you got it.

So, if the vi­o­lence is ac­cept­ably gra­tu­itous and sat­is­fac­to­rily fre­quent, why am I not tuck­ing into my head? Oh, it’s just ev­ery­thing else that sucks. The El­derly Ac­tion Hero is al­ready a sta­ple of Amer­i­can cin­ema – “Jeez, I’m get­ting too old for this,” De­tec­tive Har­ri­son East­wood says as he puffs over the hill for the hun­dredth time – but Stal­lone’s im­mo­bil­ity, which passed for sto­icism in the 1980s, now makes him look faintly cata­tonic.

And then there’s the grimly per­func­tory plot: a gang of hu­mour­less Chris­tians hire Rambo, cur­rently re­tired to a hut in south-east Asia, to trans­port them up river, where they in­tend to dis­trib­ute medicine and sal­va­tion. We sus­pect they may even­tu­ally find them­selves forced to mod­er­ate their paci­fism.

Given that Sly has had two full decades to fol­low-up Rambo III, he could surely have come up with some­thing more imag­i­na­tive than an un­likely amal­gam of Mad Max II and The African Queen. Rocky Bal­boa demon­strated that Stal­lone does have the knack for wring­ing poignancy from the most cliched sit­u­a­tions, but this ver­sion of Rambo, some­what sad­der, sig­nif­i­cantly less hu­mor­ous and im­mea­sur­ably gruffer, is just too in­hu­man to in­spire any­thing like proper sym­pa­thy.

And yet. Maybe it’s just nos­tal­gia. Maybe it’s some­thing to do with the way so many of us drift to the right in later years. Maybe we’ve just been de­prived of red peo­ple-meat for too long. But it is strangely com­fort­ing to have the old man back.

God’s in his heaven, Mongo the chimp is in the White House, and there are en­trails at the end of Rambo’s ma­chete. Watch out head, I’m tuck­ing in.

Aaaaeeeeea­gaaaaaaaa: Sly Stal­lone acts up a storm in Rambo

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