September 6, 2009

Is Stallone Pushing His Luck?

When it was announced, a few years back, that Sylvester Stallone was preparing sequels for his two big 80's film properties, Rocky and Rambo, I was, to say the least, quite skeptical. Had I been writing Awesome with a Side of Sweet back then, there would no doubt have been a few sarcastic, venom dripping posts about these unnecessary sequels and the desperation they represented in Stallone. Stallone, of course, was one of the biggest box office draws of the 1980's, but hadn't really made a film that an audience really connected with since the early 1990's, so it seemed like a last ditch effort to salvage his career when he dusted off Rocky Balboa's boxing gloves in 2006. The movie seemed like an even longer shot when you factor in how truly bad the last installment, Rocky V was. Some of my co-workers and I monitored the pre-production and the shooting of the film and were fully expecting the cinematic equivalent of a car crash when the movie was released. A large group of us gathered to see the film on opening night, after slamming back some drinks, fully expecting an awful film that would provide entertainment strictly because of it's epic badness. Then a funny thing happened: the movie was good. Stallone, who also wrote and directed Rocky Balboa, really understood what it was that drew people to this character originally (it was pretty hard to indentify with Rocky as an underdog when he was a millionaire and wearing the champions belt in previous entries) and he concocted a story that not only drew that out again, but also looked at still feeling relevant "past your prime" and the importance of believing in yourself and chasing a dream, even if everybody around you tells you that it's a lost cause.
His Rocky truly did surprise, but his next project, which he was also going to write and direct, was Rambo IV and it seemed incredibly unlikely that he would pull this one off. I was never a big fan of any of the Rambo films, and the character seemed so iconically 80's that I had great difficulty picturing him in an updated story line. (Many rumors floated on the internet about what the plot line would be the fourth film, ranging from Rambo taking on the Taliban; battling North Korean forces and even him taking on a full town in a hostage situation. There was also a draft that saw Rambo tracking down his kidnapped daughter whos involved with some cult.) At last, it appeared, I would get my cinematic car crash. While the film was still in production, an extended trailer was released online. I remember finding it posted online at one of the movie sites I visit and soon many colleagues were gathered around my desk as I cranked the volume and cued it up. What followed was a gritty, dark, violent montage of Rambo in full assault mode. The mayhem was so over-the-top that in included a scene where Rambo spins a jeep-mounted anti-aircraft weapon around to shoot the driver of the vehicle at close range. When it was over, we sat, briefly in stunned silence. This really didn't look awful at all. The finished film, that ultimately went by the simple title of just Rambo, was actually quite entertaining, although slightly empty headed. Stallone, somehow, had put together an impressive comeback and in doing so, instead of shamelessly milking his successful, iconic characters he actually gave them fitting final chapters that greatly improved on the previous entries in the series.
Until... Last week it was revealed that Rambo V had been green lit for production. I can't help but think this move might represent Stallone pushing his luck. Along with the news of the green light came a logline for the movie that saw Rambo slaughtering his way through a sea of drug lords and human traffickers in order to rescue a young girl that was kidnapped at the Mexican border. Not exactly awe inspiring, but even less when you realize that a very similar plot was floated as an option for Rambo IV. (Rambo's previously unmentioned daughter is kidnapped and he butchers his way through some cult to rescue her.)

Then came word that the aforementioned plot was in fact wrong. It turns out the film will be much, much nuttier. In this installment, the US Government have been genetically experimenting with a team of elite soldiers in an effort to engineer deadly killing machines. However, like all super secret government experiments in movies, something goes horribly wrong. One of the subjects has laid waste to the secret research facility and is on the loose and Rambo is called in to hunt the beast down. Yes, I said "beast." The target, which started out as an elite soldier, has now mutated into what is described in the official logline that Stallone faxed out yesterday as "(having a) man's cunning, a predator's savageness, and a prehistoric power that has transcended the ages." Rambo and his "hunting partner" (who the logline described as 22, "We need young people in the theatre! Get Zac Efron on the phone!") will be joined by a group of black ops to try and track down and kill the "beast." If it sounds an awful lot like Predator, that's because it is. I don't want to say "jump the shark" but it's a little odd for a series, after four installments spread over 25 years, to suddenly change genres altogether. Make no mistake, this is a sci-fi movie - Rambo is going to be hunting down some sort of supernatural beast in the arctic circle!

I gotta say... I have significant doubts about this, but he's surprised me before.

Check this out It's a voicemail that Stallone left for Harry Knowles from Aint-it-Cool-News wanting to clear up the confusion about the Rambo V plot. One more thing: is there a movie series with more fucked up titles then this one? The first film was titled First Blood. The sequel was Rambo: First Blood Part II. The third entry, strangely, was Rambo III. The fourth film was called Rambo (the exact same title as the second one, without the the subtitle) and the newest one is Rambo V: The Savage Hunt.

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