Evolution? Who needs it? Certainly not Sylvester Stallone, who has found that reviving his most iconic film roles without change has been a gift to his career, keeping it alive longer than it probably has any right to at this point. His trademark mumble, which continues to be endearing for the soft-spoken pugilist Rocky Balboa, is damned annoying anywhere else. It’s particularly frustrating in Rambo: Last Blood, as Stallone makes a futile effort to have the war-hardened soldier admit anything close to real human feelings, but as he limply shouts “I want you to feel my rage; I want to rip out your heart!” he just sounds like a guy who has taken too much shrapnel to the head.
You also just know that Rambo is going to literally rip out somebody’s heart.
Rambo: Last Blood is being presented as the final movie in the 40-year franchise, which began with the genuinely-good and comparatively non-violent First Blood. There are still nods to the PTSD-afflicted war hero, but the most you’ll get is a scene of Rambo popping a few pills, hearing voices of past friends. The shockingly terrible script co-written by Stallone goes through the motions of a generic action thriller, rather than forcing Rambo to come to grips with the violence that has haunted his life. The film’s title would suggest exactly that sort of confrontation, but instead the only reckoning he faces is with a bunch of armed Mexican drug dealers.
Rambo has always been a hero for the moment, whether facing anti-war sentiment post-Vietnam, battling evil Russians, or slaughtering ruthless Burmese soldiers as he did in 2008’s wildly gruesome Rambo. That he’s now tearing across the US/Mexico border like wet tissue paper and butchering a bunch of murderous, sex-trafficking Mexicans is all the Trump-ian political messaging this thing can stand, such as it is. At least it’s too brainless to spend much time philosophizing.
The latest in an already-tired trend of tough guys finding redemption as horse trainers, Rambo has been content doing just that on an Arizona ranch for the last ten years. He’s found the peace that he’s long been denied, has a new cowboy hat and a more manageable haircut. You should see him do dressage, Rambo and his stallion prancing around the stable like something out of a Mitt Romney fever dream. It’s bizarre, and we know this tranquility won’t last. The Logan/Jubilee relationship he’s formed with college-bound Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) is a kindness not only to him but her grandmother Maria (Adriana Barrazza), who has cared for the girl since her mother died and father split for Mexico. The stubborn Gabrielle takes off to find her old man, despite Rambo’s pleas for her not to, and gets kidnapped as a sex slave by a cartel.
The rest goes exactly as you think. Rambo gets wind of what’s happened, races to find her and does, only to get outsmarted, outfoxed, and beatdown while on enemy turf. After a ridiculously short recovery time he’s back and luring his enemies to the homestead where he can fight them on a more familiar battlefield. In a matter of moments he’s turned the ranch into a house of horrors that would make Pennywise squeamish. Rambo was always a soldier fighting for what he believed in at the time, but the elaborate booby traps he creates suggests him to be a psychopath. This isn’t just the “dark side” that he eludes to earlier in the film, this guy’s a bad cup of coffee away from turning into a serial killer. In what may be the most disgusting scene of the movie, and of the year (and this from the guy who just sat through 3 From Hell), an angry Rambo digs into a man’s shoulder and literally rips out his collarbone. The crowd at the screening I attended audibly groaned at that one.
It’s 89 minutes of torture and roughly 5 of those minutes is for the only real action sequence, as Rambo lures his foes into an underground maze of caverns (because Rambo likes to dig), littered with explosives, rifle blasts, and pits of spikes. They keep running into all of his deadly contraptions like a bunch of stupid lemmings, and it’d be funny if it weren’t so nonsensical. Director Adrian Grunberg’s lazy camerawork can’t keep it interesting for more than a minute, making you wonder if enduring such a crappy story was worth the wait. And if, by chance, you’re hoping that Rambo: Last Blood is the merciful end to a franchise that hasn’t had anything new to say for 30 years, well, that kind of finality isn’t so certain. As Rambo vaguely mutters something about coming home, sitting on his trusty rocking chair, you realize the one war he can never win is against greed. When, not if, we see Rambo again let’s just hope Stallone has given his iconic war hero a purpose other than simple revenge.