January 31, 2008

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Rambo (R)
Despite being 61, Sylvester Stallone just keeps right on having giant forearms and fighting bad guys in Rambo, the fourth movie in the John Rambo series.

In case you were wondering about how the fourth movie in a series can get away with just being Rambo with no numbers after it, the first Rambo movie (that’s 1982) was actually First Blood, not to be confused with 1985’s Rambo: First Blood II or Rambo III (1988), which features Rambo helping the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. (Insert your own foreign policy joke here.)

This time, Rambo (Stallone) is living in Thailand, collecting snakes for a local tourist trap and speaking in very short sentences and then only when absolutely necessary. A group of do-gooder missionary types, including Sarah (Julie “Darla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Benz), ask Rambo to take them up the river on their boat to war-torn Burma (which is now called Myanmar, which, as the movie’s opening news-clip things remind us, is under the thumb of some bad dudes). At first he says no but then Sarah asks a couple of times and he says yes (and, really, that’s it, motivation wise — Rambo is convinced by repetition). On the way up the river, the group is almost murdered (or in Sarah’s case, forced into sexual slavery before eventually being murdered) by “Burmese pirates.” Rambo puts an end to all that talk by killing all the gun-wielding, missionary-endangering pirates but Sarah’s scolding husband Michael (Paul Schulze) — instead of saying “thank you for shooting the guys who probably would have beheaded us” — only prattles on about how “killing is always wrong” or some such nonsense. Luckily for Michael, he gets to test how strongly he believes that when, after Rambo drops the missionaries off at the beleaguered Burmese village, the missionaries are almost immediately captured by the Bad Dude Army.

That is, the ones who aren’t shot or blown up by land mines are captured. Since the movie tells us Sarah and Michael’s names and since Sarah is a blonde girl who has heretofore been best known for playing a vampire, they are among the captured and spend much screen time looking dirty and frightened.

Rambo finds out about this predictable bit of misfortune when another representative from the missionaries’ church shows up to get him to take a team of mercenaries up the river to find the God squad. Rambo, moved by the fact that Sarah is pretty much the only person he’s thus far talked to in the movie, decides to not only lead the mercenaries up river but also lead the rescue mission when they get to Burma/Myanmar.

For big chunks of this movie, Burmese Bad Dude Army guys yell at each other in what I’m guessing is Burmese without us seeing their dialogue translated into subtitles. “Find that guy with the giant forearms!” or “Chase the white people!” or “Why did everybody spend the evening perpetrating some kind of sadistic torture? Why didn’t anybody think to guard our Bad Dude camp?” — the soldiers could have been yelling any and all of these things at each other and yet we in the audience have no idea. This briefly bothered me until I realized that really none of this movie needed to be in English. Rambo barely speaks, Sarah mostly just looks pleading, Michael looks scolding and the mercenaries make tough-guy faces and then spit. Dialogue really just gets in the way and thankfully there is relatively little of it.

What the movie lacks in talking, however, it makes up for in killing. Specifically, bloody bodies blown to bits, piñata-style, though, instead of candy, everybody — missionary, hapless villager, Bad Dude soldier, mercenary — is filled with geysers of red jam. Strawberry maybe. It comes spewing out of everyone when they’re hit by, well, anything, be it rock or undetonated World War II bomb. The particularly special-effects-y nature of the blood (looks a little bit like corn syrup, a little bit like post-production CGI addition) makes it appear extra shiny and jammy and for the most part free of bits of non-jam-like internal organs or muscle tissue.

If you were looking for a Stallone movie without the character development and plot complexity of 2006’s Rocky Balboa but with lots more shooting and exploding, I think you’ve found a winner. C+

Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language. Directed by Sylvester Stallone and written by Stallone and Art Monterastelli (based on the character by David Morrell), Rambo is an hour and 33 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.