Movie Review: Rambo

Josh LexingtonThursday, November 8, 2007
This post is part of Push the Third Button Twice, a ~2 month adventure where I would write parody articles based on the news as it happened — in 15 minutes or less. The posts are credited to my a fictional "staff", but they're actually all me. I apologize in advance.

Very few films of the last half-century have glamourized pure, unadulterated violence the way the Rambo series has. Its title character, John Rambo, has (by some counts) executed more bad guys than any other hero in the history of the movies. I know that as a kid, I had my left hand broken by a friend who thought he was Rambo’s little brother, so it has impacted at least one life in a serious, digit-busting way.

That’s why it was especially shocking for me when I realized that the latest Rambo movie, “Rambo”, is actually an anti-war morality piece to a degree that would make Robert Redford blush. From the trailers, you expect to be going into a film about Rambo mercilessly beheading terrorists in a jungle to rescue American hostages… but what you get is much, much scarier.

The movie is set in a psychiatric hospital, where Dr Werner von Latchenhoser (a bald Anthony Hopkins with fake buck teeth) is trying to get through to his long-time patient, the disturbed elderly man known only as “John”. John doesn’t speak much, but has a predisposition to chopping carrots with a battered machete, in some ominous foreshadowing to a bathroom torture scene at the end of the movie.

The action comes in brief flashbacks as Dr von Latchenhoser helps John remember his past as a vicious killer in the jungles of Burma.  These are the scenes from the trailer, but in a slow-motion sepia tone with soft Vivaldi playing in the background.  Stallone’s reactions to these memories are some of the most moving elements of the film.  In fact, the scene when John is confronted with a spider –  and disintegrates into a mass of crying and screaming like a 5-year-old girl who’s not getting a My Little Pony at Wal-Mart – is one of the movie’s best scenes, and should certainly earn Stallone an Oscar nod.

But in a “Usual Suspects” twist,  Stallone (as director) reveals that the entire “Rambo” persona is actual a complex fabrication of John’s poor, demented mind.  In reality, John is nothing more than a washed-out sommelier who had one too many wine tastings before retreating into a fantasy world where he can kill people with his bare hands.  As Dr von Latchenhoser gets closer to the core of John’s psychosis, we are given glimpses into the origins of many of the key scenes from the earlier “Rambo” movies, most notably in a scene involving a raccoon, a garden gnome and a pair of jumper cables.

In the end, however, Stallone gives in to studio pressure and tacks on an ending that can, at best, be described as “X-Men”.  I can’t say more without giving it away, but if your theatre lets you bring hard liquor into the screening, take them up on the offer.  My particular test audience left shaking their heads; one man even punched the studio rep in the throat and had to be forcibly removed by security.

“Rambo” (alternate titles floated have been: “John Rambo”, “John” or “Sideways II”) is rated PG for mild violence and over-acting.  It co-stars Helen Hunt as Daisy, William H Macy as Oscar and Hillary Clinton as General Brett “Bulldog” Huffington.

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