According to the Internet, some 230-odd people are killed in Rambo.
Now, I don't trust the Internet for everything (just banking, medical advice, and spiritual enlightenment), so I was skeptical. 230 people sounded like an awful lot. Life is rarely that cool. Aliens vs. Predator 2 had a pretty steady body count, but not including a bombing and a couple offscreen slaughters, it punched in at a measly 24.
What would a movie 10 times as violent possibly look like? Wouldn't it pretty much have to involve Rambo duct-taping two machetes to his hands and windmilling his way through Yankee Stadium? Well, there was only one way to find out. So I strapped on my parka, threw some walrus blubber to the sled dogs, gave the flipper to the mound of ice that had once been my automobile, and mushed out for the theater.
A world-weary Sylvester Stallone has found a quiet life for himself in Thailand -- bow-fishing for catfish, catching cobras for snake shows, the usual. Meanwhile, upriver from him, Burma is going through a bloody, brutal civil war that shows no signs of abating.
When Julie Benz and her church group tries to hire Stallone to take them upriver so they can do some humanitarian aid work for the war-torn country, he's having none of it. They'll probably just die in a wasted cause, he says; she says it's not a waste of your life to try to save someone else's.
That's enough to convince him. But shortly after he drops them off at a Burmese village, the rampaging army wipes out the whole place, taking Benz and the few survivors prisoner. Stallone's hired by the church to take some more passengers upriver -- only this time they're a crew of international mercenaries with a mission to rescue the captives.
Which it turns out involves wiping out veritably the entire Burmese army. Question for you: what's your opinion of graphic, gory, Saving Private Ryanesque, chunky-salsa ultraviolence? Negative? Stay the hell away. Positive? Well, I have good news.
Put me firmly in the "up with screen violence" camp, especially when it's as distinctive and unapologetic as Stallone's direction makes it here. Incidentally, I do not really understand Stallone. A lot of the time he seems like an ambulatory pectoral with a face attached, a doofus of a punchline trying to relive his glory days that weren't that glorious in the first place. But then if you watch Rocky it's actually pretty great. In his interviews, he's funny and smart. And Demolition Man is a personal favorite.
With all that in mind, I don't know why it's such a big surprise that, thanks largely to Stallone's understated performance, the movie isn't at all cheesy. It isn't exactly Greek tragedy, either, but co-written by Stallone and Art Monterastelli, Rambo's story of redemption -- he's been living in southeast Asia since he shipped out for Vietnam -- is downplayed so much you could almost believe he's real. Then he goes and kills 80,000 people with a coconut and a gun that shoots man-sized bullets and arms and legs and little maroon bits are flying through the air and you're back in Bonkers, Murderland. But for a minute there, you're a little sad for him.
Enough about feelings, now let's get back to the violence -- which, coincidentally, must have been a frequent stage direction in the script, as nary can five minutes go by without a massacre or a spectacularly explosive headshot. Edited for TV, this thing would be like 20 minutes long. It's almost like a zombie movie, except the guys taking .50 cal rounds through the dome aren't zombies, they're humans. But they're really bad humans, so it's OK.
As far as blood-showering, whoop-it-up action movies go, it's damn exciting, and the story and the mercenaries add just enough color to keep the nonviolent scenes fun. Some of us will get a bigger kick out of it than others. If you're the kind of person who enjoys movies that make you exclaim "Oh my God!" as ribbons of what used to be people flutter across the screen, that kick should be pretty big.