The next chapter finds Rambo recruited by missionaries to protect them during a humanitarian aid effort on behalf of the persecuted Karen people of Burma. After the missionaries are taken prisoner by Burmese soldiers, Rambo gets a second impossible job: rescue the missionaries in the midst of a civil war.
If you've been wondering what ever happened to ex–Green Beret superwarrior John Rambo since he singlehandedly shot up a Pacific Northwest town (First Blood, 1982), returned to the jungles of 'Nam to free U.S. POWs held long after war's end (Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985), and interrupted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan long enough to blow lots of stuff up and rescue his old commandant from the Reds (Rambo III, 1988), then Rambo (2008) is for you. Without so much as a IV to dilute the brand name, Rambo--which is what most of us called the second, most iconic film in the series--may aspire to open a new era for a pop legend. But it's a thoroughly mechanical attempt to reanimate a franchise that, absent the anger, frustration, and self-loathing of the post-Vietnam years, has no meaning or purpose. For some time now Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has been putt-putting along the Thai-Burmese border in a longboat, catching exotic snakes to sell. As for the 60-year civil war in Burma between the brutal government and the Karen independence movement, he ignores it. Enter a party of American missionaries whose dewy blond spokeswoman (Dexter's Julie Benz) asks Rambo to haul them upriver so that they can bring medical aid to the insurgents. After the requisite number of monosyllabic refusals, he does. Soon afterward the do-gooders are in a world of hurt, and he's summoned to lead a squad of mercenaries on a rescue mission.
As storytelling, the latest Rambo is the most bare-bones of the bunch. Rambo has little to say, so it's especially galling that Stallone, as director and co-writer, obliges him to have essentially the same conversation at three different points (the final distillation: "Live for nothing or die for something"). The Burmese army goons seem in competition to commit the most hideous atrocity (e.g., child skull-crushing underfoot), the better to justify the eventual, lovingly protracted spectacle of them being eviscerated by high-powered weaponry. Although shot in Thailand, the movie has mostly been photographed in brown, reducing any particular sense of place but, perhaps, perversely increasing our gratitude for the splashes of purple whenever hot metal tatters flesh. --Richard T. Jameson