Rambo III (1988) / Action-War
MPAA Rated: R for strong pervasive violence and language
Running time: 101 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallon, Richard Crenna, Marc de Jonge, Kurtwood Smith, Spiros Focas, Sasson Gabai
Director: Peter MacDonald
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone, Sheldon Lettich
Review published December 31, 2007
A purely propagandist return of the popular 1980s hero sees Stallone (Over the Top, Rocky IV) donning the tightly-bound bandana to the forehead again for another one-man rescue attempt. This time it's a bit more personal as his former Vietnam commander and friend, Colonel Trautman (Crenna, Body Heat), has been captured by Russian forces as he tries to rally the Afghan rebels who have been winning the resistance. The Afghani people are too suspicious of the American to willingly join his crusade to spring Trautman from his prison cell, leaving him to go it mostly alone, with one or two friends he has made in his short introduction to their ranks. He faces formidable odds, as the prison is surrounded by landmines, tanks, and hundreds of Russians, and the Russkie leadership is as corrupt and uncaring as the worst of them.
It wasn't the best of times for the aging Rambo to be released in 1988, as the Russians were already pulling out of Afghanistan at the time of the film's release, Reagan was on the way out, while Soviet Union was already on the verge of collapse, making them rather sympathetic adversaries in the real-life news. It's too bad for the makers of the film, as it would be the most expensive film ever made at the time -- it would only gross half of its $60 million back at the US box office (though it still did quite well internationally). Without a great deal of patriotism in the struggle, and a lack of nobility in Rambo's tenacious quest to get a friend out of a prison camp ("'Cuz he'd do it for me" is his only rationale), the pleasures of Rambo III lie mostly in the mechanics, which by this point in the series had already been mounted on predictable rails to get to its inevitable conclusion.
Fans will get what they pay for in terms of explosions, stunts, high body counts, and nifty ways to kill an adversary galore, but unless you're a die-hard action nut, there is absolutely nothing else going for this outing that would appeal to anyone else. Although the film is dedicated to the people of Afghanistan, the politics of the film are virtually nonexistent, as Rambo could have been fighting alongside just about any foreign army fighting a Communist threat and the film would have virtually been identical in execution.
Since you know what you're getting -- namely, more of the same -- this is dreadfully boring most of the time, never giving audiences the food for thought that the two previous Rambo outings did regarding the wound that never quite healed, the Vietnam War experience. Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay, keeps the dialogue minimal, even allowing for a couple of one-liners for comic relief. While the gags may be out of character, it does bring a certain life to the dreariness of the rest of the film that suggests how Stallone could have actually made this endeavor much more tolerable by just having fun with the outlandish material.
Much of the footage of this pro-Islamic forces flick would ironically be shot in Israel, a country which itself had been facilitating the non-US sales of weapons that would end up in Afghan hands. Of course, as history has panned out, some of the very factions that Rambo fights along with here at this point of the war would eventually serve as the backbone of al-Qaeda, the group that would unleash heinous terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western powers, further tainting whatever goodwill the makers of the film intended to honor the freedom-fighting Mujahideen. Turns out that the film could rightly be seen as little more than thinly-veiled propaganda, as the US CIA had also been actively funneling in money through the Pakistani ISI with Operation Cyclone. Rambo had turned from a symbol of Vietnam veteran angst against government neglect to a complete tool for propagating dubious military doctrines to the American public. When you can't even feel good that Rambo has eviscerated the crap out of those "rat Commie bastards" at the end of the film, what purpose does a film like this even serve anymore?
-- Follows First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Followed by Rambo.
©2007 Vince Leo