Photograph by Karen Ballard/Lionsgate
FLAME ON: Sylvester Stallone blows 'em away in 'Rambo.'
Sylvester Stallone's Rambo aims to please by wiping out the brutes of Burma
By Richard von Busack
AFTER George Orwell was a British policeman in Burma, the author claimed that his greatest desire was to drive a bayonet into the guts of a Buddhist priest. That's the effect of thwarted imperial ambition on even an essentially gentle person. Today's audience would rather see the bayonet go into the guts of a Burmese soldier, and Sylvester Stallone is happy to oblige with Rambo. Jabbering Southeast Asian guys saying the Burmese equivalent of Team America's joke dialogue "durka, durka, durka" may not be the North Vietnamese soldiers Rambo wanted to get his hands on back in '85, but they fit the general profile.We see Rambo first in the Thai bush, harvesting serpents for a cobra-taunting show that draws the tourists. He is still pretty much the same crestfallen steer he was 20 years ago. He doesn't talk, he lows. The spray-painted advertisements make Rambo look a lot like Che Guevara. Here, though, he's more like Charlie Allnut, the pilot of The African Queen. Since he owns his own riverboat, a missionary (Julie Benz) and some of her partners hire him to bring them up river. Rambo knows it's certain doom, but anything to please a lady. As we can see from the lovingly excerpted scenes of Myanmar war atrocities, the county is unsettled. Shortly after their arrival, the Burmese (not Myanmar) Army shells the village, rapes the women and the little boys, blows up the rice paddies and throws the missionaries into the pigpen. The White Woman, of course, is kept for special despoliation. I don't know how many times her captor shines a flashlight on her and leers. (There was a line they reportedly used in the silent film days, "Ah, me proud beauty ..." It would have come in handy here.) With a boatful of annoying mercenaries, Rambo returns to attempt to rescue the girl, his only reason for risking his vast neck. Rambo is capped with Stallone's answer to the Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan, only with more computer animation of subhuman Southeast Asians flying apart. Going to this and complaining about the gore is like sticking your head in a sewer and complaining about the view. It's such primordial filmmaking: these movies take place in the swamps for a reason. What's left for Rambo to fight, Grendel? It isn't much to look at, though—Rambo: First Blood Part II, directed by George Cosmatos, boasted lusher jungles. Contrast this Rambo with the fantastic emerald-hell that Werner Herzog unleashed in Rescue Dawn, and it's just a digitized steam bath. The magenta cloudbursts and flying tomato paste add a little color to the olive-drab color scheme. Author John Mueller of Ohio State University drew up a chart that pegs the body count at 83; up four from the last film, in 1988. I frankly don't know how one could keep count, watching Rambo peppering soldiers with some kind of high-caliber machine gun. The bodies flew apart so fast it's impossible to tell who belonged to what. Nice to hear—from the children's voices in the theater—that Stallone still knows how to make good upbeat family entertainment.
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