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The American Astronaut

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Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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After 20 years, John Rambo still knows how to mete out the damage, but this time there aren’t a lot of reasons to cheer.

First Blood

John Rambo is no Rocky Balboa
John Rambo is no Rocky Balboa

The action starts in Thailand, where John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky) spends his time catching snakes for sport (cobras and pythons, none of those sissy garter snakes), fishing (with bow and arrow, none of that sissy fishing rod stuff), and blacksmithing parts for his rickety boat (home made, none of that sissy Home Depot stuff).

Spoiling his thousand-mile-eyed seclusion is a band of missionaries. Representing Christ Church of Colorado, they want to travel up river, into Burma, and deliver medicine and the word of God.

Rambo doesn’t want any part of it. They have no plans on bringing weapons and that’s simply not his style. Particularly considering Burma is in the throes of the world’s longest-running civil war and the junta is running ramshod over the country’s civilians.

Nonetheless, Sarah (Julie Benz, TV’s Dexter), one of the missionaries, persists in the team’s request to rent Rambo’s boat — and his navigational services. She can see he’s totally lost faith in people and she does her best to reassure him that trying to save a life is not a waste of life.

Her chat sinks in and Rambo finally agrees to be their guide up the river. After one bloody confrontation with soldiers, Rambo safely delivers them to their destination and goes back about his business.

Unfortunately, the band of missionaries is subsequently taken captive and it becomes Rambo’s responsibility to go back up the river, this time with a gang of mercenaries, and rescue the group.

Uncivil War

It’s a bad sign when monks start staging protests, but that’s exactly what happened in the real world, in Burma (more accurately, Myanmar), only a couple months ago, in 2007.

What’s not clear is exactly when the events in this movie are supposed to be taking place. It starts with a collection of TV news clips reporting on the violence and genocide in Burma. On one clip, a date stamp clearly shows “1989,” which is the same year the junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar.

While Stallone successfully returned to the role of Rocky Balboa by playing off the character’s lingering inner demons at the age of 60, there’s no indication here that much time has passed since the events of Rambo III.

From a certain point of view, the age issue isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t really matter if Rambo is 61 or 41. What does matter is that Rambo has enormous guns — and lots of artillery, too. The trouble is, this adventure doesn’t have the over-the-top zest of Rambo: First Blood Part II. The latest installment’s graphic violence, gore, and debauchery, all certainly intended to instill a hatred for the junta, simply doesn’t generate the desired reaction.

Yes, it’s a terrible thing to see the junta’s soldiers throw mines into a boggy ditch and then force a collection of prisoners to run through the muck, with the soldiers placing bets on who will survive. Ultimately, all the prisoners will lose because they are merely target practice.

Yes, it’s despicable to see all the bloodshed and raping.

But it’s not enough to cheer on Rambo, a man who has distanced himself so far from his American homeland he has no idea what has changed back home and he even has no idea if his father is still alive. With Rambo vacillating between stoicism and rage, the story of Rambo is itself a disjointed mash-up between real-world tragedy and cartoonish soldier-of-fortune gusto.