Just in time for the final days of the Bush regime comes “Rambo,” a movie with its heart in Reagan-era ham-fisted foreign policy and its brain looking for new geopolitical evil that can be reduced to its most simplistic form. The film does for the Myanmar genocide what “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” did for same-sex marriage — it brings a serious issue to the attention of morons who haven’t picked up a newspaper in five years while dragging that same issue down to nincompoop level.
“Rambo” opens with John Rambo (director and co-writer Sylvester Stallone) running away from his past and living a quiet life in Thailand, catching pythons for a snake show and spearing fish for hungry Buddhist monks. A group of medical missionaries, led by Michael (Hal Hartley vet Paul Schulze), ask Rambo to take them upriver so they can deliver prayer books and supplies to the villagers in Burma. (The word “Myanmar” is, incidentally, never uttered in this film; it’s unclear whether that’s because Stallone hasn’t heard it or just can’t pronounce it.) Rambo refuses, until Sarah (“Buffy” vet Julie Benz) has an inane conversation with him about changing the world and how people can’t sit idly by and blah blah blah he agrees to take them.
On their way, the merry band of travelers is set upon by pirates, and Rambo has to kill them all before they take Sarah away — for those of you keeping score at home, you’ll have to wait a full 20 minutes before Rambo starts blowing people away. But relax, killing faceless Asian people is apparently like eating potato chips, because the movie just can’t stop the slaughter once it starts. Not long after the missionaries arrive, the brutal SPDC forces arrive to start executing and raping people, which Stallone portrays with gusto, pouring on as many amputations and exploding heads and crying women as he can.
Ken Howard, as a rep of the missionaries’ church, comes to Rambo and asks him to take a boatload of mercenaries to the same place in the hopes of freeing the Bible-thumping docs from their captors, and before you know it, it’s time for Operation: Rescue the White Lady. The mercenaries, at least, liven up the film a bit and provide the only humor and characterization that “Rambo” has to offer. But once they get where they’re going, it’s ka-blam, ka-blam, ka-blam.
Did Stallone worry that he’d be accused of soft-pedaling a real-life tragedy if he didn’t rub our noses in it? A straightforward treatment on the subject of Myanmar would probably suggest, describe and imply the horrors being perpetrated, lest the story be overshadowed by a grisly gore show. But this isn’t a docudrama, it’s the third sequel of a lucrative franchise that hasn’t been relevant in decades, and all the raping and pillaging and sadistic make-the-prisoners-run-through-a-minefield moments smack of exploitation.
The “Rambo” series has never exactly been a platform for Stallone’s thespian skills, but he’s more stone-faced and monosyllabic than ever, allowing his human-growth-hormone–enhanced arms to do the heavy acting here. Writer Stallone (in collaboration with Art Monterastelli) can’t let his main bad guy be merely evil, sadistic, ruthless and a wearer of mirrored aviator shades—no, the villain has to be gay, as well. Nice touch. As for director Stallone, viewers will find themselves longing for the subtlety of Oliver Stone, the wit of Uwe Boll, and the sophisticated brio of Michael Bay.
The genocide is Myanmar is, without a doubt, horrific and detestable, but does it deserve to be the subject of a Stallone flick? Please, nobody tell him about Darfur.