Sometimes, while watching ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ – maybe it’s when our hero uses his bare hands to tear the still-beating heart out of a Mexican rapist’s chest – you’ll ponder that it didn’t have to end this way. Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo, first an unappreciated Vietnam vet, then a one-man army, always fought on his own terms. Even when he rolled with the ‘gallant people of Afghanistan‘ (as 1988’s ‘Rambo III‘ was dedicated), he was never anyone’s mouthpiece. Now, Stallone might as well be wearing a MAGA cap. The new film’s script, partly credited to its star, is a breathtakingly racist compendium of Trumpian talking points: Rambo, these days a humble Arizona rancher with an extensive weapon collection, does battle with an invading horde of drug dealers who make the thugs from ‘Sicario’ look like a mild nuisance.
Oh, right – they’re also sex slavers, responsible for abducting Rambo’s college-bound niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), hooking her on smack and pimping her out. Just when the movie’s symbology couldn’t get more obvious, the camera lingers on that border wall: a porous defense, all the better for Rambo to lure his enemies onto his home turf for a Doors-scored climax of ridiculously over-the-top gore. Is there any satisfaction in seeing the icon back in action?
Director Adrian Grunberg (‘Get the Gringo‘) stages the violence clumsily, often botching the kill moments with frenetic cutaways. None of the care that Stallone imparted to his ‘Rocky’ reboots –‘Rocky Balboa’ (which he directed), ‘Creed’ and ‘Creed II‘ (or produced) – is in evidence; it’s as if he is admitting that the ‘Rambo‘ movies were always trash. He may not be the best custodian of his own legacy. Graying, splotchy and barely intelligible, Stallone turns in a self-negating performance, just as ugly on the inside.