Six Shots 

An aging Sylvester Stallone desperately re-creates another iconic role.

There are several ways to approach Sylvester Stallone's new Rambo, and while none of them make this bad movie much better, they do make it more interesting. Let's first consider Rambo as ...

1) An aesthetic spectacle. At times, it is something to see. Stallone the director is most comfortable using the panicky, pseudo-documentary camerawork Steven Spielberg first unveiled at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. Stallone loves the snap, crackle, and pop of dismembered limbs more than Spielberg or even Mel Gibson, and he also has a convincing feel for the damp claustrophobia bred by the Asian monsoon. But what about the Asian people themselves? What does he think of them? Well, let's get ideological and "deconstruct" Rambo as ...

2) A racist shoot-'em-up. Stallone's film is about Rambo's attempt to rescue some good-hearted missionaries who have been captured by the Burmese military, so Stallone keeps the audience on the side of his psychotic ex-veteran by caricaturing the Burmese army as a gang of drunken perverts led by a cowardly pederast. The faceless Asian hordes here only exist as the faceless, inhuman targets of Rambo's arrows and bullets. But surely that's reading too much into a thin text. Action movies are supposed to be fun, after all. Perhaps it's best to see Rambo as ...

3) A camp/cult classic. There is one moment when a Burmese military goon says, "If you go against me, I will feed you your intestines!" Later, one surfer-dude mercenary sums up a scene of horrific violence in one word — which happens to be "word." But in spite of some of the most painful and cloying expository dialogue in recent memory, this film is largely humorless; dismissing Rambo as campy action underestimates Stallone's bleak worldview. So what if we look at Rambo as ...

4) Stallone's King Lear. Early in the film, our hero growls, "Fuck the world," and his utter disgust with all current military and political systems is never challenged. No army is worth anything, mercenaries are the new saviors (or, as one hired gun growls to a rescued missionary, "God didn't save you; we did"), and combat itself is a pointless exercise in honorless bloodshed. But hasn't that suppressed rage and frustration always been part of Rambo's appeal? For the answer to that question, we must regard Rambo as ...

5) A sequel/retread/nostalgia revue. With this in mind, film critic Pauline Kael's comment about 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II is absolutely true for this film, too: "It's like a tank sitting on your lap firing at you." Do audiences still want this kind of assault? Can Stallone still deliver it? Finally, whether we like it or not, we must regard Rambo as ...

6) Stallone's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Mercifully, 61-year-old Stallone does not remove his shirt. But he's gotten older, and, though it hardly seems possible, he's gotten dumber and less expressive with age, a man trapped in a persona that cannot and will not die. Perhaps this is the ultimate tragedy in store for anyone going to see Rambo and expecting a good time.


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