Movie News & Reviews

"Rambo" rates a B for body count

According to the Internet, some 230-odd people are killed in Rambo.

Now, I don't trust the Internet for everything (just banking, medicaladvice, and spiritual enlightenment), so I was skeptical. 230 peoplesounded like an awful lot. Life is rarely that cool. Aliens vs.Predator 2 had a pretty steady body count, but not including abombing and a couple offscreen slaughters, it punched in at a measly24.

What would a movie 10 times as violent possibly look like? Wouldn'tit pretty much have to involve Rambo duct-taping two machetes to hishands and windmilling his way through Yankee Stadium? Well, there wasonly one way to find out. So I strapped on my parka, threw somewalrus blubber to the sled dogs, gave the flipper to the mound of icethat had once been my automobile, and mushed out for the theater.

A world-weary Sylvester Stallone has found a quiet life for himself inThailand -- bow-fishing for catfish, catching cobras for snake shows,the usual. Meanwhile, upriver from him, Burma is going through abloody, brutal civil war that shows no signs of abating.

When Julie Benz and her church group tries to hire Stallone to takethem upriver so they can do some humanitarian aid work for thewar-torn country, he's having none of it. They'll probably just diein a wasted cause, he says; she says it's not a waste of your life totry to save someone else's.

That's enough to convince him. But shortly after he drops them off ata Burmese village, the rampaging army wipes out the whole place,taking Benz and the few survivors prisoner. Stallone's hired by thechurch to take some more passengers upriver -- only this time they're acrew of international mercenaries with a mission to rescue thecaptives.

Which it turns out involves wiping out veritably the entire Burmesearmy. 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 whenit's as distinctive and unapologetic as Stallone's direction makes ithere. Incidentally, I do not really understand Stallone. A lot ofthe time he seems like an ambulatory pectoral with a face attached, adoofus of a punchline trying to relive his glory days that weren'tthat glorious in the first place. But then if you watch Rockyit'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'tat all cheesy. It isn't exactly Greek tragedy, either, but co-writtenby Stallone and Art Monterastelli, Rambo's story ofredemption -- he's been living in southeast Asia since he shipped outfor 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 thatshoots man-sized bullets and arms and legs and little maroon bits areflying through the air and you're back in Bonkers, Murderland. Butfor 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 thescript, as nary can five minutes go by without a massacre or aspectacularly explosive headshot. Edited for TV, this thing would belike 20 minutes long. It's almost like a zombie movie, except theguys taking .50 cal rounds through the dome aren't zombies, they'rehumans. But they're really bad humans, so it's OK.

As far as blood-showering, whoop-it-up action movies go, it's damnexciting, and the story and the mercenaries add just enough color tokeep the nonviolent scenes fun. Some of us will get a bigger kick outof it than others. If you're the kind of person who enjoys moviesthat make you exclaim "Oh my God!" as ribbons of what used to bepeople flutter across the screen, that kick should be pretty big.

Grade: B