Dir: Adrian Grünberg. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Óscar Jaenada, Louis Mandylor, Adriana Barraza,Yvette Monreal. 18 cert, 89 mins
The fifth and, if we’re lucky, final instalment in the Rambo series is called Last Blood, but it could just as easily be called Most Blood. Apparent retirement hasn't stopped Sylvester Stallone's ever-ready ’Nam vet, John Rambo, from inventing new ways to jack up the body count.
He lives, for the time being, in permanent magic-hour sunlight on a ranch in Arizona, seemingly untroubled by the degradation of the modern world. Trotting his horse around the corral, he’s like grizzled old John Wayne in his 1970s hang-up-the-hat mode.
Still, the whetstone is never far from reach. Just in case evil comes a-knocking, Rambo has dug a huge network of tunnels out – triggering the odd unfortunate flashback to Viet Cong devilry – and kitted out his workshop with instruments of death, which glint from wall racks in every corner, biding their sweet time.
Rambo springs into action when his surrogate daughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), a sweet girl just rounding the age where boys need fending off, unwisely goes to find her estranged dad in Mexico. Disobeying John on the dubious steer of a friend, some faithless ex-junkie, she doesn't get much joy from her old man, but instead gets drugged, raped, locked into sex slavery, and has a V-shaped gang emblem carved into her face. Music, perhaps not to Rambo's ears, but definitely to the quivering contents of his toolshed.
Where the early Rambos were famously macho-vendetta fantasies born of the Reagan era, this doesn’t waste any time in plunging us, with gruelling crudity, into the siècle de Trump. The Mexican border is predictably rendered as a Wild-West-style frontier: peace and prosperity above, grisly sex trafficking and instant, unbridled lawlessness below. Some of them, we assume, are good people? Well, only Adriana Barraza, Gabrielle’s grandmother, who lives on Rambo’s ranch as a friendly domestic and fetches him breakfast.
It’s grim watching the film lunge so xenophobically to give its hero a cathartic to-kill list – dozens of tattooed, snarling goons crashing in humvees across the border – whom he variously takes care of with hammer thwacks to multiple groins, spikes ripping through skulls, and a close-up torture scene involving a protruding clavicle being waggled around.
Adrian Grünberg’s film earns its 18 certificate, all right, but it also makes the rampages of Joaquin Phoenix’s similarly motivated character in You Were Never Really Here look all the more brilliantly withholding. Paz Vega, as a shifty journalist whose half-sister was victimised, lurks around the edges of the Mexico scenes, but serves merely as another human prop to motivate Rambo’s unbridled revenge. He tells her there’s no letting go, the words churning and gurgling their way out of Stallone’s ever-more-prognathous lower jaw.
Rambo, and his films, have never been in the business of holding back, but it’s unclear where, as entertainment, this calculated plunge into hate and rage really gets us these days. It’s staged, scored and cut together with an aggressively deadening quality, numbing your senses to the very impact it intends.
Shotgun blasts echo like thunder around the ranch tunnels, as the bloodlust ramps up and up. A heart gets ripped out of a particularly appalling cholo’s chest, to a still-beating sound effect. Cool? According to the lone male in my sparse audience who gave it a round of applause, sure. Rambo wheezes, bleeding, up to his porch swing for what might be a final sunset, but it’s not the epitaph anyone, except maybe that guy, wants for Sylvester Stallone.
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