by Mike Felker
Cut, no. 31, March 1986, pp. 4, 28
No, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART II is not the long awaited film biography of the late nineteenth century French poet, Rimbaud, whose decadent romantic appeal depended upon, among other things, running guns in Africa. This film is the long awaited sequel to FIRST BLOOD, Sylvester Stallone's sensitive cinematic portrait of a muscle-bound, crazed Viet Nam veteran who all but destroys a small Oregon town in a fit of pique.
In PART II, Stallone gets to destroy half of Viet Nam. And after Johnny Rambo gets through, there is scarcely a tree, hootch, or villager left standing in all of Southeast Asia. He displays an incredibly varied, and one might dare say, perversely imaginative prowess at killing people — shooting, strangling, stabbing, etc. while at the same time remaining completely untouched and unruffled by ak-47 rounds, Russian mortars, and massive electric shock. Indeed, Rambo is such an unstoppable killing machine that one could view the film as a variation on the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH genre, a sort of "Jason in the 'Nam."
FIRST BLOOD, PART II is a paean to the cult of hardcore machismo. At one point, some very unpleasant Russians wearing rather stylish jungle fatigues with sky-blue epaulettes attempt to get information from Rambo by cutting him across his cheek with a white-hot knife blade. He doesn't even say "ouch!" (I know if they'd just pointed that knife in my direction I'd tell them anything they wanted to know, from General Westmoreland's home phone number to Joan Collins' measurements). But Stallone demonstrates how hardcore Rambo really is when he arrives in Thailand to begin his "assignment" with absolutely no luggage — not a flight bag, no change of underwear, not a toothbrush, or even a copy of Soldier of Fortune to read on the long flight from the States.
Not once is Stallone's macho veneer so much as scratched by anything resembling a human need, desire, or emotion; nothing interferes with the masculine action of RAMBO. Never do we see him eat, drink, sleep, god forbid take a leak or shit, or laugh. Now, when I served as a hospital corpsman stationed with the Marines in Viet Nam in1970, by Stallone's criteria I was obviously a real sissy, what with my preoccupation with such mundane matters as staying alive while going on day patrols, night ambushes, and mine-sweeps. I worried about getting resupplied in the middle of nowhere before my chow ran out (and once stealing a Gaines Burger from a Scout dog and eating it when we didn't get supplied in time).
I prayed that it wouldn't take too long for the medivac-chopper to come in to evacuate the wounded and that the battle dressing, tourniquet, IV, & morphine I'd administered would hold out until the chopper was back at First Med Battalion. I hoped that the kids in the next village had some decent dope to sell. I was vainly trying to keep dry and particularly keep my feet dry, during the monsoon rains. I did everything in my power to avoid mosquitoes and other repulsive creatures while attempting to sleep on a rice paddie dike with only a poncho liner to protect me from the elements.
Of course, Johnny Rambo eschews such "sissy" pettiness. He doesn't worry about staying dry. He spends most of the movie running around without even a T-shirt to protect his excessively muscled torso. And he definitely doesn't fret about being bitten by mosquitoes or any other damn thing in the jungle. When a bamboo viper slithers out of a tree to attack him, Stallone chokes it with his bare hand. Now that's macho! If only I and all the other "grunts," "jarheads," and other troops in Viet Nam could have been more like Johnny Rambo, maybe we could have won that war after all.
Of course, aficionados of the first FIRST BLOOD and the ROCKY trilogy are familiar with Stallone's astonishing ability with dialogue. In one of the most powerful and eloquent passages I've heard in recent films, Johnny Rambo explains the word "expendable" to a Vietnamese woman: "It's like when you're invited to a party and you don't go and nobody cares." Who but the most stone-hearted cynic would not be moved to tears by the simple profundity, the awesome poetry of that statement? Here Stallone shows his multi-talented ability, now as a screenwriter.
If one wanted to be pedantic and somewhat small-minded, one could find a few minor flaws in RAMBO. The landscape does appear to be a bit more Rio Grande than Ho Chi Minh Trail. I mean I don't recall ever seeing any Vietnamese villages perched on arroyos when I was over there. But, of course, my memory has faded and history has become blurred for me, as it has for so many Americans. And the film has another slight problem. Given the large number of Latinos and Blacks who served in Viet Nam, why were all the rescued P.O.W.'S and all those bureaucrats involved in Rambo's thwarted "mission" so VERY white? And did all the "Vietnamese" in the film have to be portrayed as an all-but-faceless, racially stereotyped "enemy," much like "Japs" looked in old John Wayne movies?
Finally, one might ask, while wimps such as me were over in 'Nam losing the war through sheer ineptitude, what did Mr. Stallone do? Making pornographic movies with titles like THE ITALIAN STALLION, that's what he was doing. But why, the skeptic might persist, wasn't he in Viet Nam fighting the war? I'm sure that Stallone, like Bette Davis in the blockbuster World War II movie HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN (Warner Brothers, 1944), knew that film was one of the most important ways to keep up our boys' morale, and that by starring in THE ITALIAN STALLION he was doing his part for the troops in 'Nam.
And he continues to do his part for the American Way: one only has to hear the hearty pre-, post- and adolescent yelling of an audience viewing RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART II. Rousing shouts of "Kill the mother-fucker!", "Way to go, Rambo!", and "Get those gooks!" fill the theatre. In its first weekend of release RAMBO made 13.5 million dollars, out grossing even BEVERLY HILLS COP, and showing that the plight of Vietnam veterans and P.O.W.s is definitely Box Office and definitely can be a big money maker in the name of patriotism.
Stallone must be proud that he, like his predecessor John Wayne, will prepare yet another generation of young Americans to defend the girl-next-door, mom's-apple-pie, and Big Business from the dreaded Communist encroachment in the Third World. I don't know about you, but I just quiver with anticipation for the soon to be released FIRST BLOOD, PART III: RAMBO TAKES ON THE SANDINISTAS.