Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Film Review: RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985, George P. Cosmatos)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, James Cameron (he wrote the first draft of the script- our man Stallone finished it), Jerry Goldsmith (he did the music on everything from STAR TREK to GREMLINS), Jack Cardiff (he shot everything from Powell & Pressburger's THE RED SHOES to CAT'S EYE), Mark Goldblatt (co-editor here, editor of PREDATOR 2, and director of DEAD HEAT).
Tag-line: "What most people call hell, he calls home."
Best one-liner(s): "Mission... accomplished." [thrusts knife into table]
Best Exchange: "How will you live, John?" "... Day by day."
Element that would have made this the best movie ever: According to the documentary WE GET TO WIN THIS TIME, the producers considered teaming up Stallone with his STAYING ALIVE protégé John Travolta as Rambo's young partner in rescuing the American POWs. Stallone nixed this idea when he decided it would be better to make the film a solo project, thus robbing the camp gods of what could have been a true jewel in the crown.

Imagine if CASABLANCA had a sequel that started right where the first one left off. Rick and Renault go straight from the airport to the armory. They grab machine guns, proceed to the front lines and kill like 5,000 Nazis and end World War II right. The comparison is warranted. FIRST BLOOD is survivalist, psychological, morally ambiguous, practically an art film. RAMBO is a balls to the wall action film. And it's a damned good one. The first shot of the movie is an EXPLOSION. Right off the bat!

BOOM! The only other instance I can think of something like this happening is Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE, which opens immediately with someone getting shot in the head. No set up, no establishing shot, just BOOM! We later get the main title. The word RAMBO is enormous and in FLAMES.

Quite a turnaround from FIRST BLOOD appearing over the muted, misty landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Rambo is offered a chance to do Vietnam Part II, his only caveat being: "Do we get to win this time?" Yeah, Rambo, we do. Cause we're taking the muzzle off John Rambo. We're not going to stay true to the bureaucratic spirit of those damned pencil necks in Washington-screw the paperwork, damn the torpedoes, and send in Rambo. There are two shots in particular that really sum up the film.

One is a loving, leisurely pan from Rambo's glistening bicep, slowly down his forearm to his serrated steel blade as he sharpens it. The other sees Rambo in the jungle as he senses a threat. He whirls around, a snake's neck in his hand. He pauses a moment, considers everything, and lets the snake live. Hey, he's just trying to survive, too. Not like these Communist hordes trying to cling to the last vestiges a war that they wanted, started, loved, and STILL love. Guess they shouldn't have made their villages so flammable. (Also of note: the brief local love interest, Co Bao, speaks lines like "Expendable? What mean expendable?" with perfect enunciation and diction.)

But in the end, it's all worth it just to see the Luddite Rambo destroy an enormous computer with machine gun fire for about two minutes. And don't worry, there's a little bit of context. It's about frustration and revenge and "The Man," which should be easily discernible from the expression on Stallone's emotive face.

Four stars of Jingoist fun. Hey, I'm just along for the ride.

-Sean Gill

No comments: