Monday, June 11, 2007

The Chipster’s Film Review: Rambo – First Blood Part 2

‘But Chippy!' exclaimed the second Romanian in the room. 'Monica is our guest!’

And just like that, it was decided.

Back to the DVD shelf went the copy of Fellini’s 8 1/2 I thought I’d watch this weekend and into the player went Monica’s favourite film which she’d thoughtfully brought with her. I’m not saying that the Fellini would have made for a more enjoyable evening -- it probably wouldn't -- I’m just saying that I didn’t expect to be watching Rambo: First Blood Part 2.

Now if that makes me sound elitist, you must know me well enough by now to see there’s not a thong of truth in it. The Chipster has always said that the original First Blood is an excellent B movie, always sure to surprise you. It’s not what you expect: subdued for the first half, troubled, and not undone By grotesquely cartoon characters. Brian Dennehy adds some gravity to the whole thing and then there’s the fantastic use of location. On a rainy evening after a bad day, there are few better films to watch with a drink and a bag of quips.

Its sequel, however, is something else. It has more testosterone in it than the whole of the Ukrainian women’s weightlifting team and is about as subtle.

The problem is the plot, which if you want me to sum it up for you, amounts to this:

man finds a reason to take off his vest.

It’s a controversial view of the film but, if you’ll spare me a minute or two of your time, I’ll try to explain but, described pictorially, it would go something like this:

We begin in a quarry where John Rambo is hitting rocks with a large hammer. Why he doesn’t use his head is never satisfactorily explained before his old colonel from his ‘special ops’ days turns up and promises him a presidential pardon if he will go back into Vietnam and help locate missing POWs. We cut quickly to the Far East where Rambo arrives wearing a fleecy shirt of the type well loved by body builders. His sleeves are professionally rolled (top picture, above) and he’s clearly overdressed for the climate. This provides a wonderful bit of foreshadowing of what will come as Rambo spends the scene sweating like an overworked bicep. We can sense in Stallone’s performance that here is a man who needs, beyond all things, to disrobe and get down to his vest.

He next appears wearing some cooler black cottons for a parachute drop in the middle of Vietnam. At this stage of the film, Rambo is clearly suspicious about the whole situation and Stallone brilliantly conveys his doubts just through his eyes...

The key doubt clearly involves his chances of getting down to his vest but the clever plot twist here is that we’re not actually provided with a good reason for him to strip off. But like all good special forces troops, he’s soon gone 'nipple free' and the ladies in the room start a-groaning.

At this point, I ask them why they find Stallone so attractive and why a certain Welshman is being ignored. I’m told to shut up and Monica runs a thumb menacingly down her replica Rambo knife.

So, I turn my attention back to the film.

Where was I? Oh yes…

So, it doesn’t take Johnny Boy long to strip down to his vest but to get to the next stage of the plot, we need some reason a man can abandon his vest in the middle of Vietnam. Naturally, he can’t just go about throwing vest hither and thither. And this is where Steven Berkoff comes in. Rambo is captured.

This part of the film is probably the most distressing. His capture is totally unexpected, especially since it comes only a minute after him killing a dozen enemy soldiers with little more than a chicken (below).

It's a terribly unexpected turn of events. The chicken dies for nothing and Rambo is captured by a Russian general who is in Vietnam supplying weapons to somebody or other. Berkoff is being quite menacing and conveys his evil intents brilliantly by making his voice go from to mumbling to VERY VERY LOUD in a drop of a hat. Or indeed a vest. Which is more appropriate since he helpfully decides to torture Rambo and we soon see the now bare-chested hero strapped to an electrified rack with his nipples perking to the voltage.

I found the torture scene difficult to watch, involving as it does the implied cruelty towards a vest. Not only don’t we know what happened to the vest, we don't even get to see it again. I was really quite relieved when the torture came to an end and Rambo started to mow down scores of enemy soldiers, hacking his way through them in gory fashion.

Rambo then spends the rest of the film with his upper torso covered by little more than body oil and the occasional scorch marks from firing heavy callibre machine guns.

Gabby was quite taken with it and I believe Monica had some kind of semi-religious experience.

As for the Chipster: he thought it a reasonable nights entertainment if you like snuff-movies in which vests are brutalised. Stallone’s performance is worth picking out and Richard Crenna can chew lines like no other actor. No man was born to utter lines like ‘Damn it John, this is personnel’ or ‘Don't ever count me with you and your scum’ or ‘It was a lie, wasn't it? Just like the whole damn war, a lie!‘ etc. etc.

As for Berkoff, he’s in fine form and shows why he’s one of our finest actors. It all ended badly for him, of course, just like it does for him in Octopussy and Beverely Hills Cop 2. He finally comes a cropper in the third act when he gets shot through a hole in the windscreen of Rambo’s chopper which, quite symbolically, is in the same shapes as the USA. I thought it a nice touch and a very moving tribute to all the lives lost in Vietnam.

The film ends with some speech in which Rambo asks that his country loves him as much as he loves it, but to be honest, I didn’t believe a word of it. A man whose shoulders overhand his hips by such an amount shouldn’t be giving speeches about anything other than the best way to eat bananas with his feet.

Once the credits came to an end I turned up the lights and found the two girls in tears and in a mood to go cut something. I decided the best plan was to go to bed so I left them going through their clothes drawers in search of vests. I heard the front door close around midnight and I don’t believe they got home before seven.

But Rambo 2 is like that. In terms of script, performance, and direction, it’s a mess. But if you’re in the mood for a film that will inspire you to do great things in a vest, then there are none better.


Anonymous said...

And Rambo 3 is even better!

Ms Baroque said...

Chip, this is the kind of post that gives reciewing a good name. I wonder if the girls were very distressed by the chicken's misfortune? I know how Gabby loves her poultry.

As for the vest, you can console ytourself with this: at least it wasn't a thong.