Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy, Chris Mulkey, David Caruso, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Kurtwood Smith
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, James Cameron, Kevin Jarre, Sheldon Lettich, based on a novel by David Morrell
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff, George P. Cosmatos, Peter MacDonald, Sylvester Stallone
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 384
Date: 03/18/2013

Rambo: The Complete Collector's Set (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Winning This Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's odd how badly these films have dated and how much they reflect the Reagan era. Fortunately, First Blood (1982) is fairly well-made and earnest, even if it's sometimes a bit on the somber, preachy side. In it, Rambo (Stallone) returns home from Vietnam, haunted by his experience as a prisoner. He wanders into a wintry small town and is immediately pushed around by the suspicious locals. He snaps and heads to the hills, using all his wartime skills to protect himself and pick off all intruders. Eventually, the authorities call in his former commanding officer (Richard Crenna), for help, leading to a slightly over-written finale. However, the action is clean and exciting, and this early Rambo exudes an appealing, lone-wolf quality.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) is another matter. It falls into that mysterious genre of "jungle" films and qualifies as a guilty pleasure, a good-bad "B" movie. While still laden with messages, this movie sets them aside long enough for Rambo to go tromping through the jungle and blowing up lots of stuff real good. In an odd twist of fate, James Cameron co-wrote the screenplay with Stallone, and the great Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes) served as cinematographer.

In 1988, Rambo III was one of the most expensive movies ever made and flopped with a furious thud. It's a very bad film, but now has an interesting element when viewed in retrospect -- Rambo goes to Afghanistan to fight with the Mujaheddin against the Soviets. The disc even contains a humble little documentary about the history of war in Afghanistan and how Rambo III fit into that cycle.

In Rambo (2008), the average bullet can hit a person so hard that it doesn't just punch a hole; it causes various body parts to fly off in different directions. Sadly, that's about all this new film, the fourth film in Sylvester Stallone's war cycle and the first in 20 years, has to offer. Rambo has been living in Thailand for some time, world-weary and cynical, catching snakes and piloting a longboat up the Salween River for a living. American missionaries approach him for a ride into Burma, a deadly war zone, so that they can hand out Bibles and encouraging words. Not surprisingly, their chosen village is attacked and they are captured. So a band of scurvy, tattooed mercenaries join Rambo on a rescue mission that lasts the entire second half of the film and results in mighty amounts of carnage. Stallone plays Rambo with very little dialogue, which is good, because whenever anyone speaks, it's cringe-worthy. The bad guys are drunken, pedophile rapists who sneer and chatter in their native language, un-translated. His action photography is trendy, shaky-cam stuff, but more machine-gun jittery than just mere hand-held shaky. When the first three Rambo films opend, it was an entirely different world. Rambo really doesn't bother to ask where this relic of a character fits today.

Lionsgate has released a four-film Blu-Ray set packed with a whole bunch of extras, most of which have already appeared on previous discs. The picture and sound quality is superb, even on the 28 year-old first film.

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