Rambo III (1988)

Rambo III (1988)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Peter MacDonald

Starring:Sylvester Stallone, Marc de Jonge, Kurtwood Smith, and Richard Crenna

At this point in his life, John Rambo (Stallone, of course) just wants to be left alone. He lives and works at a monastery in Thailand, and he’d rather practice Buddhism than war. Though he does do some stickfighting on the side so he can win some extra cash from the locals. When  his old buddy from ‘Nam, Col. Trautman (Crenna) finds him and wants him to fight in Afghanistan against the evil Russian baddies, Rambo initially declines the offer. But when the head evil Russian, Col. Zaysen (de Jonge), kidnaps and tortures Trautman, Rambo snaps in to action. He goes from Buddhist monk to one-man wrecking crew at the drop of a hat, annihilating everything in his path as he helps the Afghanis - who, we must remember, were the good guys during this particular conflict. Will Rambo live to blow things up another day?

John Rambo returns - again - for this third and not-quite-final installment. In 1988, the world was still in the grip of Rambo Fever, which necessitated this second sequel, and later the cartoon series, Rambo and the Forces of Freedom, and finally the toy line based on the cartoon. And speaking of one-dimensional animated characters, here Stallone looks like a human cartoon. Much like how the original Rocky (1976) was a sensitive, downbeat drama for the most part which then got distorted into something unrecognizable by the time of the countless sequels, here it’s easy to forget the original First Blood (1982) and its sensitive, troubled John Rambo character. Now he’s a ‘roided up superhero who can essentially leap tall buildings in a single bound and if he breathes on a helicopter it blows up.

Now, if you overlook the history of the Rambo series (hey, shouldn’t this movie be called “First Blood III”? No movies in the series before this were called “Rambo”...but we digress) there is plenty of stupid fun to be had. There is action and adventure aplenty, and first-time director (though he’d been in the film industry for many years prior) Peter MacDonald pours it on with aplomb. Near-constant blow-ups, machine-gun shooting, knife-throws, horse chases, neck snaps, and tank and helicopter battles ensue. As exploding helicopter enthusiasts know, this has one of the best of all time. The explosions are classic 1988 explosions, and with a very big budget behind it, everything looks top-notch and they clearly didn’t skimp. 

Of course, there is also the Prerequisite Torture - this time of Trautman - and we also get the classic “yelling while shooting a machine gun”, the exploding guard tower, and the evil Russkies, among many other cliches, but they’re the FUN cliches we all love and enjoy. You wouldn’t even think this movie would be necessary after Rocky single-handedly conquered Russia in Rocky IV (1985), but here Stallone goes again, basically winning the Cold War single-handedly - well, with Reagan of course. Clearly the Italian film industry was paying attention, as there are countless...er...TRIBUTES to this particular Rambo outing, too many to name here. But as much as we enjoyed Rom Kristoff, Brent Huff, and Reb Brown, among others, following in his footsteps, there is without a doubt only one John Rambo.

Sure, Stallone doesn’t clearly delineate his words, and his excessive slurring causes you to need to put the subtitles on, but not to worry. Most of the second half of the movie is without dialogue, and is essentially 45 minutes of crud blowing up. Its nearest rival in that department is our beloved Commander (1988) - and, truth be told, Commander is probably more enjoyable and a better movie all around, and it was all done on a far lower budget. But who needs words when Stallone’s mullet and almost 100-percent-of-the-running-time shirtlessness do the talking? Seeing as how he co-wrote the movie, and was juicing to a ridiculous degree, we felt it was pretty ‘vein’ of him. But it’s all part of the fun, we suppose. Because it was the wonderful 80’s, things were just bigger back then - bigger hair, bigger cell phones, bigger houses, etc. In the ever-escalating world of Rambo sequels, it means bigger knives, bigger machine guns, and far more lethal bows-and-arrows. 

Of course it’s stupid, but it’s ENJOYABLY stupid. You root for Rambo to blow the bad guys to smithereens, and you have a good time doing it. As we’ve mentioned before, characters like Rambo - and, by extension, movies like this - stand as a bulwark against our wussy, overly-PC society. If we stop watching them, we’ll all slide even further down the PC slope into oblivion. For that reason alone, Rambo III is worth seeing, if not owning. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out write-ups from our buddies: Exploding Helicopter and  Full Moon Reviews!


Deadly Ransom (1998)

Deadly Ransom (1998)- *1\2

Directed by: Robert Hyatt

Starring: Loren Avedon, Lisa Crosato, Francesco Quinn, J.J. Perry, and Brion James

Max Lightener (Avedon) is a Navy Lieutenant, used to staging raids with his strike team. When his fiancĂ©, Jackie (Crosato) is kidnapped, he teams up with a guy named Luis (Quinn) and snaps into action. It turns out the main baddie behind the kidnapping is a drug-doing no-goodnik named Bobby Rico (James). Faced with such an opponent, Lightener later calls in the assistance of his strike team so he can initiate “Operation Shadow”, i.e., get his girlfriend back. Also Lightener supposedly has some precognitive abilities a la Michael Pare in Blink of an Eye (1992), but that’s not developed very well. Will Lightener strike like lightning or lighten his load?

Okay, let’s start with some positives. (There aren’t many, so don’t get comfortable). In an apples-to-apples comparison (or should we say Avedon-to-Avedon comparison?), Deadly Ransom is better than the other Avedon-produced film, The Silent Force (2001).  While it does have a similar feel, which makes sense, Deadly Ransom has some funny knife-throws, an exploding helicopter which looks like it was lifted from some other source, Avedon shoots people while sliding down a rope like an angry, full-grown gentleman invading a DZ Discovery Zone, and one member of his strike force looks like noted pervert Anthony Weiner. This calls into question the effectiveness of his strike force. The movie contains shooting, blow-ups, and some silly fights. It's lit well.

There. Now that we’ve front-loaded what positive attributes we could scrape together out of the movie’s 97 minutes (including the end credits), here are the problems. Avedon remains unlikable. It’s hard for the audience to get behind his mission because we simply don’t like him very much. You can tell he produced the movie because there are multiple scenes of his face. Evidently he believes his face is so powerful it can stop a sniper’s bullet. As we all remember, Avedon played an evil kickboxer that fought David Hasselhoff in a classic episode of Baywatch entitled “Kicks”. THAT should have been a full-length feature instead of Deadly Ransom. Avedon should have realized that.

The tone of Deadly Ransom just feels off, and there’s no character development. Just a smidgen of depth to the characters - we don’t ask for much - would have gone a long way here. That is replaced by bickering between Avedon and Quinn, which is always a bad shortcut. When they’re not bickering, they’re training shirtlessly in the desert. Yay. Proving that the movie is straight-up racist, instead of dying by knife-throws like everybody else, when they kill a Native American, they throw a tomahawk at his head. Presumably they don’t know the meaning of the word “subtlety”. You don’t need to prove a cultural point with your choice of weaponry.

Despite the presence of an automated tank that looks like it has a smiley face, Deadly Ransom just doesn’t engage the audience. Is it really even that different from Mike Norris extravaganza Survival Game (1987) - just another Kidnap Slog? Sadly the answer is no, and it’s hard to imagine video store patrons consciously choosing Deadly Ransom at their local video store in 1998, or at any other time. Even the great Brion James can’t save it, and that’s not a good sign. It all feels kind of junky and trivial, and really shouldn’t go on anybody’s must-see list.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty