The once and future action hero Sylvester Stallone delivers 9/10 of a taut, sobering, bloody thriller about the futility of trying to change people in Rambo, which opened nationwide on Friday. Director, co-writer and star Stallone has it in him to make a penetrating, multi-layered story that isn't afraid to look at the dark side of Vietnam vet turned murderous killing machine John J. Rambo. But in the end, just like Rambo, Stallone can't help being true to himself.
The fourth film based on a character originally created by novelist David Morrell in 1972, the newest edition posits that Rambo has returned to Thailand after his adventures in Afghanistan in Rambo III. Nearly 20 years have passed in real life, but in the film the time period is left unspoken. News footage refers to a breakdown in nearby Burma -- a country that officially changed its name to Myanmar in the late 1980s -- and atrocities being committed by the military against defenseless villagers. Whatever the year, Rambo has settled back into a peaceful lifestyle. He hunts snakes for a living and has lost any spiritual or political beliefs he might have once held.
When a Christian missionary relief group seeks to hire his fishing boat for a trip up river to deliver Bibles and medical supplies, he initially refuses. Michael Burnett (Paul Schulze), the group's leader, is earnest and stiff, imploring Rambo to help because they believe they can change people's lives. Rambo asks, "Did you bring weapons?" "Of course not!" Rambo replies, "Then you're not changing anything." Thus the seed is planted for a classic confrontation between good and evil.