REVIEW: Rambo: Last Blood Is An Ugly, Xenophobic Mess

Pushing the action franchise's jingoistic tendencies to almost-sickening levels, the poorly made Rambo: Last Blood amplifies every sin of the previous four films to the point of self-parody.

Sylvester Stallone returns to the iconic role of Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, who's now living a quiet life on an Arizona farm, where he trains show horses and helps to raise his niece, Maria (Adriana Barraza). But when Maria travels to Mexico to find her birth father and is immediately abducted by a cartel, Rambo murders his way through every Mexican criminal that he can. The film plays out like an extended political tract for most of the first half, portraying America as a rural paradise, and a blanket version of "Mexico" as a hell on Earth.

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The border is shown to be circumvented by an armed armada of roughly 50 men using two trap doors hidden in barns. At one point, Rambo speaks about how this land is where he was born, and he will always be willing to kill indiscriminately to "protect" it.

If all art is political, then Rambo: Last Blood is trying to make a hard case for the necessity of some kind of wall (or at least trigger-happy, red-blooded Americans) to protect our children from those Mexican rapists. The franchise has always been nationalistic, but Rambo: Last Blood takes the fear-mongering of an entire culture, transforming it into the overall threat and theme of the film. How else do you get an invading caravan of black-ops soldiers mixed with stereotypical gang-bangers flashing gold skull-emblazoned assault weapons? It's a hodgepodge of every irrational fear of Mexico rolled into one easily disposable package.

Putting aside the queasy politics of the film, Rambo: Last Blood is still an objectively poor product. The plot works with a shoddy sense of pacing, pushing aside character development, and plot, for 30 minutes of uninspired mega-violence. None of the actors gets anything to do but mug for the camera in his or her character's broadest and most basic forms. One of the main villains, the one audiences have been set up to see as the vilest of the vile, dies off-screen before the beginning of the third act.

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The script, by Matt Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone, is a mess, with almost every character except Rambo defined either by being cartoonishly evil or too pure for this sinful Earth. The closest thing to an engaging supporting character, a reporter played by Paz Vega who's been covering the Mexican drug trade, appears briefly to help Rambo and then disappears from the narrative, leaving just the gore and carnage to fill the mercifully short run time.

Even the violence is lackluster. Rambo dispatches roughly an entire cartel throughout the film in myriad ways, but many of the effects are largely the same: Oh, that guy fell into a Rambo trap and got cut to pieces; it's only the fifth time we've seen that in three minutes. As a result, virtually none of the action feels exciting. Occasionally there is the grim creativity of ripping out a man's collarbone with bare hands, or else the accidental hilarity of Rambo pulling a man's heart out of his chest. But for the most part, the film relies on quick shots of Rambo stabbing or shooting people, or quick edits of a Home Alone-style trap working long enough for him to double-tap headless bodies. It all quickly bleeds together, due in part to the uninspired direction by Adrian Grunberg (Get the Gringo).

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There's never risk to Rambo, either, removing any real tension from these moments. When he can survive a beating by a hundred men by taking a four-day nap, and he literally walks off multiple gun wounds in the climax, there's no reason to think Rambo is in any danger. He's basically a horror movie antagonist pointed at nameless mooks. All that we're left with is an extended montage of 73-year-old Sylvester Stallone murdering about 50 guys in marginally different ways, which can get real old, real fast.

Rambo speaks throughout the film about how the world is a dark and terrible place, and about the blackness of men's souls. That's also the moral of the movie. There's no ray of hope or optimism, no potential that his sacrifices may be for the greater good. Rambo: Last Blood is a deluge of unnecessary gore for the ghoulish reasoning of "because the world is bad and those people need to get shot." The previous Rambo films may have been jingoistic and bombastic, but at least they were made with some form of genuine idealism, and with basic cinematic competency. The latest (and hopefully final) Rambo film is instead a dour, repetitive, xenophobic and borderline unwatchable bloodbath.

Opening Friday nationwide, director Adrian Grunberg's Rambo: Last Blood stars Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Yvette Monreal.

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