Friday Flicks September 20: “Rambo: Last Blood”

M.V. MoorheadSeptember 20, 2019
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Opening this weekend:

Rambo: Last Blood—With the obvious exception of Rocky Balboa, troubled Vietnam vet and former POW John Rambo has been Sylvester Stallone’s most enduring character. He debuted in First Blood, the 1982 adaptation of David Morrell’s novel, as a PTSD-afflicted ex-Special Forces drifter who makes some small-town deputies wish they hadn’t messed with him. It was one of Stallone’s more intense and poignant early performances.

The 1985 sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II, which sent the title character back to Vietnam to rescue surviving American POWs still being held there, turned him into a cartoonish action hero playing out a reactionary revisionist fantasy for that war. In 1988’s Rambo III he battled Soviets in Afghanistan, and in 2008’s Rambo he rescued American missionaries in Burma.

In the latest, the 70-something Stallone plays Rambo training horses on a ranch in Arizona, and helping raise his beautiful 17-year-old niece Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). The girl runs off to Mexico by herself to visit her long-absent father, but ends up in the clutches of human traffickers. Needless to say, Rambo pursues, and grisly mayhem ensues.

The director, Mel Gibson crony Adrian Grunberg, stages the action with reasonable efficiency, although the gore and dismemberment quotient goes way over the top to the point of camp; one heavy gets the Toshiro Mifune treatment from the end of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. There’s a certain undeniable satisfaction in seeing the vile human traffickers suffer the Wrath of Rambo.

But the movie isn’t as much fun as I was hoping for—it’s downbeat and hopeless in tone, like an action-movie King Lear without the poetry. Stallone’s performance feels halfhearted; it doesn’t have the exuberance of which he’s capable. Pas Vega, as a Mexican journalist who comes to Rambo’s aid, shows some promise as a character, but she doesn’t get to do much, and the other actors are mostly genre stock figures. Hopefully, the title of this entry proves accurate.