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Rambo III (1988)::rating::3::rating::3

For the space of this review, you and I will venture back to a different place and time–America, in the 1980s.  At this point, pop culture was a fever dream, fueled by Columbian coca plants and cheap hairspray.  This was an era of plastic patriotism and dumb action movies, both of which hit their absolute apogee in Rambo III.  The filmmakers desperately want you to take this cacophonous drivel seriously, so they make sure to adorn it with a weighty, time-sensitive message and lots of sweaty, scowling faces.  Fortunately for us, the more they crank up the intensity, the more hilarious this movie gets.  Rambo III is pure junk food entertainment, in all its greasy, guilty gloriousness.

The, ahem, “story” builds on a similar template to Rambo: First Blood Part II.  Once again, John Rambo (Anthony Hopkins Sly Stallone), is the misunderstood super-soldier, exiled by a world that doesn’t need or understand him.  This time, he’s somewhere deep in Thailand, helping fund a monastery by whooping ass in a stick-fighting pit.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Predictably, ol’ Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) rolls in with a brand new war to fight.  Well, this time, Rambo just ain’t havin’ it:  “My war’s ova!”  He growls.  (Roger Ebert famously estimated that Stallone was paid $100,000 per word for this movie.  So, the above proclamation netted him a cool 300k.  Depressing, isn’t it?)

Anyway, Rambo seems content to center his chi and bash people in the gonads for easy money.  Of course, such a noble existence could never last:  It seems Col. Trautman ventures to Afghanistan, hoping to aid the Mujahideen in their struggle against Soviet invaders.  During a bumbling nighttime sortie, Trautman’s convoy is ambushed, and the colonel is taken prisoner.  He gets chucked into the gulag, to be tortured at the whims of a sadistic commandant (Marc de Jonge).

Uh-oh, y’all know what time it is!  Time for Rambo to flex those oiled-up biceps and pull that red bandana taut across his tan forehead.  Squibs are gonna splatter, and those lousy commie sum’bitches are gonna beg for their miserable lives, all while our hero spits out one-liners at 100k per syllable.

Rambo’s quest to single-handedly mow down the Soviet army will take him deep into the barren sandscape of Afghanistan.  He links up with a village of freedom fighters, who greet him with measured suspicion.  Amongst these desperate rebels, a host of clichés will emerge:  There’s the Loyal Sidekick (Sasson Gabai), the Frenemy Who Will Become a Believer (Marcus Gilbert), and the Plucky Orphan Boy (Doudi Shoua), who probably hopes Rambo will become his new dad.  The Mujahideen slowly warm to Rambo, especially after he joins them for a game of polo with a goat carcass.  Yes, you read that correctly.

But let’s be honest, you ain’t neck-deep in a Rambo flick for the plot, right?  These movies are about Rambo plowing through bad guys with a machine gun, his pecs bouncing with every bullet.  Nothing about what follows is ordinary:  The main bad guy is a screaming, slobbering psychopath, determined to extinguish everything good in the world.  Attack helicopters duel against tanks, with the fate of a country hanging in the balance.  Enemy guards don’t just get shot; they explode into gooey smithereens.  It’s terrible, magnificent, and compelling, all at once.  You may not want to watch, but Rambo III also won’t let you look away.

This is the point where I would discuss the performances, but the acting (and the dialogue) defy any serious analysis.  Sly mumbles and glowers through the entire movie, allowing his massive traps and delts to do most of the talking for him.  The late, great Crenna spends the bulk of the story yelping in a Russian torture dungeon.  I can only hope this suffering bought the actor a Maserati, or a lake house.  Something.  Finally, de Jonge adds to the movie’s unintentional hilarity, spewing a bad Russian accent that sounds like someone’s slowly squeezing him by the nethers.

All this adds up to a delirious experience–a movie that somehow manages to be more than its trashy components.  Rambo III is a gripping artifact of an oxymoronic era in which idiotic movies touted serious messages.  This is the 80s incarnate.  Ironically, the only way any of it works if you can shut off your brain and accept Rambo’s odyssey for the silly, unbridled nonsense it is.  Do that, and I think you’ll find Rambo III to be one of the most fascinating, funny, and enduring bad movies ever made.

101 min.  R.  HBOMax.



Sylvester Stallone)

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