Film review: ‘RAMBO: LAST BLOOD’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The Rambo film franchise began encouragingly in 1982 with First Blood, a convincingly raw and gritty survivalist action movie with Sylvester Stallone memorable as the Vietnam vet John Rambo battling personal demons and Sheriff Brian Dennehy. The sequels saw the quality rapidly nose-dive as Rambo transformed into a ridiculous, mulleted killing-machine who slaughtered his way through nations of evil non-Americans while flexing veiny, baby-oiled biceps and bellowing incoherently.

In its first 15 minutes, the latest instalment of the Rambo saga, entitled Last Blood, seems to have taken a refreshing new path. The film inserts Rambo into western mythology reworking the character as a taciturn cowboy who trains horses on a ranch with his housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her daughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) who he sees as a niece. This encouragingly thoughtful approach doesn’t last, though, as Gabrielle is kidnapped and forced into sex slavery by Mexican gangsters and the film turns into an obnoxious Taken rip-off. Just like Taken, Last Blood is full of outrageous racial stereotyping and torture porn as loveable uncle Rambo brutally carves a swathe through an entire cartel.

The predilection for depicting Mexican people as criminals in Hollywood films – as in last year’s vigilante abomination Peppermint – is sad and alarming and here Mexican men are almost entirely portrayed as ridiculous snarling monsters. Given the current political climate and the vile rhetoric spewed by certain national leaders, seeing this approach in a film is distressing. Just to ram home its point, the film in one scene, explicitly features the current border fence between the USA and Mexico.

Apart from its reprehensible political stance the film’s defining feature is its extreme violence. Director Adrian Grunberg continually ratchets up the violence until it becomes so outrageously over-the-top it ventures into schlock horror territory. This includes a chamber of horrors variant on the Skyfall siege sequence in which every shooting, bashing, stabbing, evisceration and decapitation is accompanied by a gristly and grisly crunching sound. All this might have been ironically funny if the film didn’t reek of the sort of toxic, self-righteous attitude behind certain repulsive present-day political movements. The film panders to perverse notions of ultra-violent vigilantism and a contemptuous dismissal of due process and the rule of law; apparently, civilisation can only be saved by a rampaging maniac caving in skulls with a hammer.

On a purely technical level the film is fairly well constructed as far as action movies go but that production skill is used in a very unworthy cause.

The film occasionally makes ludicrous attempts to soften Rambo including one sequence where he extols avuncular wisdom straight after bashing in 10 people’s brains. It also tries to introduce a more enlightened female character in journalist Carmen (Paz Vega) who provides Rambo with information about the cartel but doesn’t endorse his quest for vengeance. Rambo of course dismisses her moderate ethos with a contemptuous snarl and her character is mysteriously forgotten.

Acting-wise, this is one of Stallone’s worst efforts. He seems to have prefigured an AI uprising his performance is so robotic and his voice is now an unintelligible grumble. He looks so uncomfortable before the camera he at least provides some unintentional comedy as in a scene where he schlumps into a Mexican nightclub full of young people and tries to look inconspicuous, much like Adam West in the Batman episode with the notorious ‘Batusi’ dance sequence. Also, despite living on a ranch with a spacious farm house, Rambo seems to reside in a hole in the ground like Bilbo Baggins.

Expectations shouldn’t haven’t been high going into this film but what’s shovelled up here is disgraceful. A closing credits sequence filled with scenes from the earlier films only serves to show that a once promising action series has ended up as insulting ultra-right-wing garbage.

Nick’s rating (out of 5): ½

Genre: Action.

Classification: R.

Director(s): Adrian Grunberg.

Release date: 19th Sep 2019.

Running time: 89 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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