Rambo: To hell and back

By Francesca Rudkin

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Herald rating: 2/5
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Matthew Marsden, Paul Schulze, Julie Benz
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Running Time: 92 mins
Rating: R18 (Contains graphic violence and offensive language)
Screening: SkyCity, Hoyts, Berkeley Cinemas
Verdict: Old-school action flick where the only thing that matters is the body count.

The tagline to this film is "Heroes never die, they just reload" and while I don't wish ill on Sylvester Stallone, I hope this will be the last time he attempts to reload his film career by using legendary Vietnam veteran John Rambo.

Rocky Balboa and John Rambo made Stallone into a huge star in the '70s and '80s, but the characters and the huge success of their films also stifled Stallone's career. In 2006 Stallone revived and released the sixth Rocky film, Rocky Balboa, a risky move at age 60, but one he managed to pull off gracefully - well, just, and now it's Rambo's turn for a bit of closure.

The main difference between Rambo of the '80s and today is he no longer kills topless. He still wears the bandanna, has ridiculously big biceps the size of thighs and prefers to stare than talk. While he's more world-weary and stooped as he lumbers his way through the beginning of this film, that all goes when he once again turns into a killing machine.

The film borrows from tales of real life atrocities in Burma but the story itself is fictional. Rambo has been living in Northern Thailand since we last saw him in 1988, ignoring the world and catching snakes for a living. When a group of Christian missionaries ask him to take them up the river into civil war-torn Burma on his boat so that they can deliver humanitarian aid to the persecuted Karen tribe, he tells them to go home.

After some persuasive talk from the group's only female, Sarah (Julie Benz), Rambo reluctantly agrees to deliver them up the river. A few weeks later the group's pastor turns up on Rambo's doorstep, asking him to make the trip again, this time taking a group of mercenaries hired by the church to retrieve the missionaries who are being held captive by the military.

Rambo decides it's time to get involved, declaring in an epic manner that you can "live for nothing, or die for something". It's at this point you know the bodies are going to start piling up.

And they do. While Stallone's intent to highlight the atrocities inflicted upon the Burmese people by a brutal military dictator is admirable, it couldn't have been done in a less thought-provoking manner. Rambo films are, after all, about entertainment and body count and rather than dwelling on the plight of the Burmese people he prefers to set about shocking us into a numb state with as much over-the-top, gruesome and gratuitous violence as he can muster.

This film sees Rambo's character go full circle. Let's hope it's enough closure for Stallone to leave this character alone. This film is no doubt entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons.

- NZ Herald

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