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Stallone: Last Gasp

Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone
 89 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByAdrian Grunberg
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega
Rambo: Last Blood

Up until last week, I thought I would go through my entire life on this planet without having had the “pleasure” of seeing a movie in which a man rips a hole in another man’s shoulder, pulls the clavicle out through the hole, and then snaps the exposed bone in half. Now I have. In addition, although I’d seen this before, I was treated in that same movie to the sight of a man ripping the still-beating heart out of another man’s chest, and someone having his lower leg cut off, leaving the hapless victim to try (and fail) to balance on his one remaining foot. Despite what some might think from this description, I wasn’t watching the latest Eli Roth gorefest or a slasher movie by some Roth wannabee. Instead, I was viewing Rambo: Last Blood, Sylvester Stallone’s last gasp at being an action hero.


Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth, and the worst film in Stallone’s second-most-popular series. The first Rambo movie, entitled First Blood, was quite good, with Stallone as a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD on the run from all sorts of law enforcement agencies. Although there was plenty of action, the script focused on Rambo’s emotional difficulties and his relationship with his former commanding officer (played by Richard Crenna), who tries to bring him in alive. Subsequent films, however, dispensed with the emotional and psychological components of First Blood and, instead, turned Rambo into a mostly silent killing machine. In 2008, with Crenna dead and no longer able to reprise his role (and insert a needed touch of humanity in the franchise), the fourth movie in the series, called simply Rambo, was little more than a shoot-em-up video game and seemingly marked the death knell of the franchise.


But the successful revival of Sylvester Stallone’s other series character, Rocky Balboa (albeit in a supporting role in Creed), undoubtedly led Stallone to pull Rambo out of mothballs as well. The results were pretty much what you might expect. The movie is as violent as any of the other Rambo films but has a sadistic streak all its own. Add to that some grating attempts at serious acting by Stallone, and the result is an entire mess.


Rambo: Last Blood opens with Rambo in semi-retirement as a rancher in Arizona. His only love in life in his housekeeper’s high-school-age granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), on whom he dotes constantly. His only hobby is digging an intricate series of tunnels under the property, which in some way allows him to cope with the inner demons that still haunt him. He also sits and stares off in the sunset, delivering moody monologues that seem like outtakes from a Rocky movie.


Rambo’s idyllic retirement comes to an end when Gabrielle decides to visit Tijuana in an attempt to reconnect with the father who abandoned her and her now-dead mother a decade earlier. She goes despite having promised Rambo she wouldn’t, and, not in the slightest bit surprisingly, winds up in huge trouble. Gabrielle falls prey to human traffickers who drug and recruit women into their stables. When Rambo realizes she is missing, he heads down to Mexico to find her.


By practicing his unique interrogation method involving breaking a suspect’s clavicle, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, Rambo learns that Gabrielle has been taken by a particularly nasty pair of brothers who operate some brothels with less-than-willing employees, including Gabrielle. With the help of a journalist (Paz Vega), who has been investigating the brothers herself, Rambo does rescue Gabrielle, but, by his actions, he incurs the wrath of the traffickers, who head to Rambo’s farm for a final showdown.


My guess is that Sylvester Stallone (who co-wrote the script) wanted Rambo: Last Blood to be taken, at least in part, as a serious meditation on his life by a lonely, violent man. But he fails miserably in that regard, in large part because the monologues he delivers are crushingly boring, another example of the mumbling Stallone who often shows up in his movies. Also, it’s hard to treat a movie seriously in which the script is continually one-upping the violence quotient. The broken clavicle incident is essentially the first violent moment in Rambo: Last Blood, and it sets an unfortunate tone for the rest of the film.


But if Rambo: Last Blood is an abject failure as a drama, it doesn’t fare that much better as an action film. To be sure, there’s plenty of action, especially in the final showdown, when a small army of bad guys armed to the teeth descend on Rambo’s ranch. But little of the action is well-staged, exciting, or suspenseful. In staging his action scenes, director Adrian Grunberg was faced with a major problem: Sylvester Stallone is 73 years old. Also, although he’s much fitter than most 73-year-olds, he is just not capable anymore of duking it out realistically with stuntmen half his age. So, there’s little hand-to-hand combat, and the one time that Rambo tries to face off with the traffickers, Grunberg has to use one of the hoariest clichés in the action movie playbook to get him out. Instead of killing Rambo when they have the chance, the villains talk themselves into merely torturing him and letting him live to teach him a lesson. 


The finale of Rambo: Last Blood defies credibility and, even worse, isn’t very exciting as well. Since Stallone can’t mix it up convincingly any more, the battle consists mostly of assorted goons setting off booby traps in the tunnels and getting blasted to shreds in graphic fashion. Despite being outnumbered about 40 to one, Rambo dispatches the bad guys with so much ease that the scene lacks any suspense and winds up being an exercise in watching graphic overkill. I suspect that diehard Stallone fans and those who enjoy Eli Roth’s work will probably like this scene, but I merely found myself wondering just how far the movie would go. Refer back to the first paragraph of this review and my mention of open-heart surgery (of sorts) to find out.


Some of the supporting characters in Rambo: Last Blood are interesting and the interplay between Rambo and young Gabrielle and her grandmother might have developed into a a better movie. Unfortunately, Sylvester Stallone chucks all that rather quickly in favor of an hour of mindless gore and bloodletting. Add to that a portrayal of a Mexico in which every person except for Paz Vega’s journalist is sleazy, corrupt, or a brutal thug, and the result is a movie that goes downhill once the actual storyline kicks in. The only good thing about that last hour is the thought that the film’s title might be accurate and that theatergoers have indeed seen the last of John Rambo. 

In this clip, Sylvester Stallone discusses the making of Rambo: Last Blood.

Read other reviews of Rambo: Last Blood: 

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) on IMDb