We are somewhere in the jungle, deep in the heart of the cinematic and moral darkness that the movie industry has made of Vietnam. We are in the land of "Rambo: First Blood II" (citywide). Ominous Jerry Goldsmith music throbs. The air reeks with sweat and tangled foliage. A squad of Soviets is searching for one man, one walking hunk of slaughter and vengeance: John Rambo--beside whom Superman is a wimp and James Bond a Piccadilly hairdresser.
Their tread is soft, their faces wary. Rambo, armed with nothing but a knife, and bow and arrow, has already wasted at least a hundred of their best. He is obviously no one to be trifled with.
One of the soldiers pauses by an embankment of pure mud. Suddenly, the mud stirs. The mud breathes. The mud glares angrily at the marauding Soviet. The mud reaches out with one tawny mud-arm, throttles the invader and sends a hunting knife deep into his chest. Blood and mud commingle, and at last we see: This is no ordinary mudbank, this is the indefatigable Rambo, in another of his multitudinous (if muddy) disguises--Rambo the mud-man, battalion of one.
The absurdity of this sequence should alert you to the movie surrounding it. "Rambo" is an inane sequel to a fairly good melodrama; another example of an attempt to repeat an earlier success that goes wildly out of scale.
In "First Blood," Sylvester Stallone's Rambo was a disconsolate Vietnam vet who, pushed too far in a small Northwestern town, battled to the death with its police, and nearly won.
Somehow--perhaps because of Stallone's taciturn charisma, perhaps care in the direction, perhaps sheer speed--this incredible tale was made plausible. But nothing on earth, not even narration by Walter Cronkite, could perform that miracle here.
Now, Rambo is not battling a mere town, a mere police force, a mere highway patrol. Now he is battling the combined Soviet and Vietnamese armies--and his own Washington superiors as well. And, from Stallone's glower when he asks Green Beret commander Richard Crenna, "Are they gonna let us win this time?" we see that only "they" could stop him. Hand this man a switchblade and he could carve off the U.S.S.R. with one stroke and hurl it into space.
That's the problem with the movie. If a character can seemingly do anything, it's hard to feel tension or concern about his fate. (At least, Superman had kryptonite.) We are left with nothing but detached aesthetic appreciation: watching Rambo race through several million dollars worth of explosions and aerial attacks, coruscant fireballs billowing everywhere and bodies flying hither and yon. Except for anyone irretrievably into violent power fantasies, this will probably soon pall.
There's more than an addled premise (Rambo alone rescuing America's MIAs). There's the sort of love interest you thought vanished with Debra Paget's old Indian robes: the alleged Vietnamese guide Co Bao (Julia Nickson), who wears mascara and guerrilla pantaloons, has light eyes and speaks dialogue of the "we go now, forget me never" variety.
One cannot call the film unprofessional. The cast is good, Jack Cardiff photographs Acapulco (disguised as Indochina) stunningly, Mark Goldblatt and Mark Helfrich edit with machine-gun crispness and a dozen stunt men and pilots continually raise the hair on your head. Director George Cosmatos ("The Cassandra Crossing") marshals these forces with the gusto of a Westmoreland, the warmth of a Patton, the wit of a Zhukov.
But "Rambo" is a movie with absolutely no inner life. It's a series of exhortations punctuated by bomb bursts. (The screenplay, co-written by Stallone and "The Terminator's" James Cameron, oddly combines Cameron's zingy paranoia with Stallone's muscle-flexing optimism.) At the end, when Rambo, asked what he wants out of life, screams hoarsely that America must recognize and accept Vietnam vets, it seems less a logical response from a fatigued (and mud-spattered) hero than Stallone yelling his guts out to audiences everywhere.
Wouldn't it be nobler testimonial to the men who suffered in Vietnam to recognize their non-combatant contributions and to help them in battling scourges like indifference and Agent Orange-related diseases, rather than dream up multimillion-dollar fantasies about winning a war that ended more than a decade ago?
'RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD II' A Tri-Star release. Producer Buzz Feitshans. Director George Cosmatos. Script Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron. Executive producers Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna. Camera Jack Cardiff. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Editors Mark Goldblatt, Mark Helfrich. Production designer Bill Kenney. Costumes Tom Bronson. Helicopter unit director Peter MacDonald. With Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove, George Kee Cheung.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).