Monday, January 21, 2008

Rambo Week!!! Review #1: Rambo: First Blood

Rambo: First Blood

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Written by Sylvester Stallone

(based on the novel First Blood by David Morrell)

Tagline: One War Against One Man.

Well, Rambo week kicks off with what can best be summed up by one user's comments on IMDB: "The only good Rambo movie."

Yup. I agree.

The movie is as flawed as any 1980's action film, but it is actually pretty decent in setting up the story about drifter and Vietnam vet John Rambo. Brian Dennehy plays the slimy small town sheriff who doesn't seem to care that Rambo risked his life in a war he most likely didn't want to fight in. This current runs through the entire film and fuels much of the frustration felt by Rambo as he escapes from the town jail, flees to the woods, and then blows up a gas station (which then leads to the greatest monologue of all time..."I can't feel my legs!" the movie shouldn't be taken too seriously, I mean after all it was directed by the guy that went on to give us Weekend at Bernie's, but it is worth noting that Stallone wasn't COMPLETELY useless back then. I mean the movie was entertaining, he tried to get a valuable message across, that I am sure was very prominent at the time. But come's a violent, post Vietnam War action movie and nothing more. It's hard to extract too many filmmaking elements from this film.

It's also interesting to note that is the last time until CopLand where Stallone tries to do some real acting, rather than just ooze machismo on the screen. Also, the great character actor Richard Crenna makes an appearance as John's superior officer from Nam. This leads to many preachy moments where we as the audience learn that we should respect our vets.

So...what's best about this version of Rambo is that never shows signs that it will lead to what the series has become. When you want to rent a bad action movie, First Blood usually doesn't make the list...because well, there really isn't that much to make fun of. I had some buddies in college who owned all three of them and oddly enough, we found ourselves only laughing at a couple of scenes from the film. The series gets so absurd and so exploitative and so perverse in its violence and portrayal of Vietnam vets that the serious tone of the first film is often forgotten.

There are some hilarious moments though. David Caruso(!!!)...yes THE David Caruso (look how serious he is in that picture...nothing changes), star of Jade and one of the CSI shows, plays a young idealistic patrol officer who is opposed from the beginning of the way they treat the new prisoner and subsequently how Dennehy goes about the man hunt, himself becoming more and more like a soldier at war (see the film REALLY tries to push serious themes on your plate and force you to swallow them). The fact that Dennehy would be so heard hearted as a sheriff is a joke. And the breakout scene from the town jail is hilarious as Stallone sweep kicks his way out of custody leading to a hilarious chase with Stallone on a motorcycle needing the help of a clearly visible ramp, to catch some air.

It's all build up (with very little violence, no one could have guessed the series would turn so violent) to the final scene where John Rambo takes over the police station and goes one one with Dennehy. It's all rather absurd, with the obvious metaphor that the cities, towns, and houses that the veterans of the war have to come back to, are just as much the war zone that Vietnam was.

Like I said, all well and good, and the intentions are good too, the filmmaking isn't horrible, it's an alright action movie (remade later as The Hunted a waaaaay more violent and hilarious film by William Friedkin) until Stallone gives his big speech about why it's so hard for veterans to find work and be respected. Look, I give Stallone credit, he is trying to make a serious point here, and he is trying his hardest to sound sincere...but his acting his soooo awful. Especially with his classic line about he can't even hold down a job "WASHING CARS!"

The film seems to have missed the party on this genre of seems a lot like Christian Rock music (always behind the trends and missing out on the immediacy of what they are trying to cash in on). First Blood is about four years behind more innovative (The Deer Hunter already made this point in the late 70's) and better films about the affects of the post Vietnam era.

Held up to the films that would follow, First Blood doesn't seem all that bad of a film. It certainly isn't without its flaws, but the source material has good enough intentions at making a valid point about Vietnam veterans. Too bad Stallone had to go and milk the cash cow.'s INSANE how popular Rambo: First Blood II is. More on that tomorrow.


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