Politics is Not the Issue With the Terrible RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

Rambo: Last Blood is a terrible movie. It is poorly written, even more poorly executed, it is stupid and half-hearted and insanely, excessively violent to the point of being repulsive, and it probably should have never happened in the first place. The critics may be right that it’s bad, but trying to frame this as some racist right-wing fantasy really is, aside from being a bad-faith argument, giving the film too much credit; it’s silly to apply anything heady to this disaster.

Rambo 5 is similar to Rocky V in that it’s clearly the worst film of its respective Stallone series. This was either written by someone who had a couple of hours to spare on a weekend, or an Eli Roth bot built by algorithms fueled exclusively by mid-2000s direct-to-video horror flicks – it is barely pieced together to get us to the killin’, and the first thirty minutes feel like an eternity.

We pick up where we left off with Rambo at the end of the 2008 film, at the ranch from those closing credits. Now, Rambo is taking it easy at the ranch, training a horse, pounding hot steel into large stabbing weapons that definitely won’t play a factor in later scenes, and building an extensive network of full-sized tunnels running all under the farm. Aside from it being literally impossible for even John Rambo to build these tunnels by himself, in his senior years, after decades of physical abuse, these tunnels become crucial in the film’s not-so-subtle budgetary corner cutting. It’s a cheap, easy set to light and shoot, and all the added darkness will help to disguise all those pesky details that would otherwise have to be filled in by art directors and set designers during a painfully extensive third act showdown. And really, who has the money for that?

Rambo lives on this ranch with his… housekeeper? It’s not really explained, because it doesn’t matter, because we gotta get to the killzzz. The housekeeper has an 18-year-old granddaughter whose father is an asshole who ran out on her after her mother died, leaving Rambo… you know what? Stallone and the other screenwriters are right, it doesn’t matter. Rambo advises Surrogate Daughter not to go to Mexico (not because it’s evil Mexico, but because he knows the dad and knows where in Mexico she will have to go), Surrogate Daughter goes, gets drugged and kidnapped and sold into slavery, Rambo goes to save her, and the plot is off and running. Well, that’s the plot, I don’t know about any running. Oh, and Paz Vega appears in Mexico (at the same time as Rambo, how fortuitous!) as a journalist whose daughter was killed by the bad guys, but saying she has a thankless role with nothing to do would be a disservice to previous roles where supporting characters were given thankless roles with nothing to do.

The story goes along, then horrible things happen, then there is a burst of disgusting violence, and everything eventually escalates to a brutalized Home Alone riff, sending everyone home with their bloodlust satiated. It’s kind of hilarious watching Rambo set up all these elaborate traps for the faceless gang members headed his way. Violence in films has never bothered me when it’s done with purpose and a sense of scene and story, or with style, or with love and attention the way it’s done in 80s horror. This sort of violence and the violence in the previous film is gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous, a cheap ruse to distract us from the cheap craft on display; it feels gross and exploitative in all the wrong ways.

I spent many of the last few minutes of this mercifully short movie looking away from the screen, weary and over it. Everyone involved knows they have no time or money to devote to a competent story resembling anything from the first three films – which feel like classics at this point – so they replace it with buckets of gore and overt cruelty. Aside from the low-rent splatter fest, every frame of Last Blood looks cheap and ugly and is shot almost entirely using close ups. It’s astounding how close we are to everyone’s face at all times. Every dialogue scene has Stallone’s grizzled mug two inches from the screen to block out any necessary background detail, driving scenes are digitally-inserted using cheap software, and one scene in particular appears to have noticeably, digitally, touched up Sly’s face, one of the many incongruous bits of a lazily constructed mess. The makeup work is poor, the effects mediocre at best… the whole movie is just plain bad. But to paint it as some sort of politically-charged commentary on the U.S./Mexico border relations or (gasp) those scary MAGA folks and their murder fantasies, well, that is somehow more idiotic than this movie.

Multiple reviews of Rambo: Last Blood have made the film appear as if it’s painting some disingenuous portrait of Mexico as a drug-infested war zone when, in fact, it’s just telling a specific story. It’s being called “anti-Mexican,” despite the fact Rambo is trying to rescue a Mexican girl for her Mexican grandmother. Sorry the sex traffickers are portrayed as bad guys? That doesn’t stop “serious critics” from decrying it as a “MAGA Fever Dream,” citing examples like when Surrogate Daughter wants to go to Mexico and Rambo simply asks why. He doesn’t ask her why because he’s repulsed by the history and culture of Mexico and its people; he is asking because he knows why Surrogate Daughter wants to go, and where that means she will have to go. Even in a movie this stupid, a line delivery like the one Stallone gives here could not be more clear. Claiming that “[t]he tone and shocked look on Stallone’s face make it seem as if she just asked to join ISIS and not the tropical border country within driving distance of his home in Arizona” is intentionally misreading the line for the purposes of painting the movie in a certain way – just like the use of “tropical border country,” which is absolutely the first time anyone has used that term to describe Mexican border towns.

So I find myself in an interesting spot, defending a terrible movie. Last Blood isn’t trying to be political, because that would indicate this movie had anything on its mind at all. Last Blood isn’t worth the energy it takes to apply such duplicitous political warning labels.

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