Tag Archives: D

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

Producer: Avi Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, Yariv Lerner and Les Weldon
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Writer: Matthew Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Pereis-Mencheta, Oscar Jaenada, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Fenessa Pineda, Genie Kim aka Yenah Han, Joaquin Cosio and Marco de la O
Studio: Lionsgate

D

When Ryan Coogler revived the “Rocky” franchise with “Creed” in 2015 after a hiatus of nearly twenty years, he succeeded by injecting it with new blood—namely, the title character played by Michael B. Jordan, with the original punch-drunk pugilist relegated to a supporting role. As the subtitle of Sylvester Stallone’s latest “Rambo” movie, the first in that franchise since 2008, suggests, “Last Blood” does not attempt a similar transfusion: it merely replicates the template of the earlier installments, with minor modifications, and as a result it’s simply redundant—and as absurdly simple-minded and violent as its predecessors. Despite the action-packed last half-hour, “Tired Blood” might be a more appropriate description of the result.

As the movie opens, Rambo is ensconced at the remote family horse ranch he repaired to after all the mayhem of the 2008 movie in Southeast Asia, though he continues to suffer from PTSD resulting from his Vietnam service—as evidenced by his regular consumption of prescribed medication and the labyrinth of tunnels, stocked with arms, that he’s constructed under the homestead to ward off prospective attackers. (The set-up makes the defenses that Nick Nolte’s reclusive geezer surrounded his cabin with in “Angel Has Fallen” look meager by comparison.) He lives there with what’s effectively his adoptive family—housekeeper Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her college-bound granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), for whom he’s her doting Uncle John.

But Gabrielle feels the pangs of separation from her father Miguel (Marco de la O)), who left her and her mother years before, and has received word about his whereabouts in Mexico from Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), an old friend. Despite admonitions from both Maria and John, she goes across the border to find him. The reunion does not go well, and Gabrielle is kidnapped, with Jezel’s connivance, by a gang headed by the sleazy Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada), who force her into their prostitution ring and get her addicted to drugs.

Rambo naturally comes to her rescue, but when, with help from the reluctant Jezel, he scouts out the Martinez headquarters, he’s spotted and brutally beaten. (It’s part of the Rambo narrative that he must suffer before unleashing his full wrath. Rocky’s victories always follow severe beatings, too. There’s a strong strain of masochism in Stallone’s mythic world.) Luckily, he’s rescued by Carmen (Paz Vega), a reporter who lost her sister to the Martinez gang and is now investigating them. She nurses him back to health and gives him the information he needs to locate the brothel where Gabrielle is being kept and free her, eliminating her captors in the process.

Nonetheless events require a more definitive form of revenge, and to achieve it Rambo returns to Mexico and, by eliminating Victor Martinez in a particularly grotesque fashion, lures Hugo to cross the border with his army and assault the ranch. Naturally, Rambo has booby-trapped the place with an incredible assortment of blades, bombs and firepower, and he systematically eliminates the seemingly endless supply of hostiles before confronting Hugo one-on-one and exacting the supreme retribution, savoring every instant before taking to the rocking chair on his porch, satiated. The credits crawl is given against a montage of clips from all five of the Rambo movies, from 1982 to the present.

One has to admire to seventy-three-year-old Stallone’s ability to handle the physical demands of the Rambo role, even if the stiffness shows even apart from the action scenes. As an actor he’s as inexpressive as ever, and his mumbled delivery of dialogue remains a problem. But his world-weariness certainly fits the character at this stage. No one else in the cast can bring any subtlety to parts that are written in the broadest strokes. That’s especially true of the actors playing members of the Martinez gang, all of whom are portrayed in the most stereotypical, single-note terms.

But then the whole movie is nothing more than a grim, ultra-violent fantasy of retribution in which any hint of moral nuance or ambiguity is ignored. It offers easy satisfaction of a viewer’s bloodlust without bothering with any niceties about law or justice—after all, it’s assumed, such concepts are meaningless in Mexico. No wonder that the movie, even if one finds it satisfying in a purely visceral sense, leaves a very sour taste.

It has, however, been competently made from a purely technical standpoint. Adrian Grunberg’s direction is uninspired but adequate, and though the cinematography by Brendan Galvin and editing by Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller naturally descend into something of a muddle in the climactic assault sequence—it’s impossible to understand how many attackers there are, or what even the approximate topography of the tunnel system is—they’re generally competent, and one can always rely on Brian Tyler’s score to pump things up as required.

Could a new “Rambo” movie have rejuvenated the franchise the way “Creed” managed with the “Rocky” one? Perhaps. But this one is just a retread twenty years on, with the hero older, grayer but otherwise the same avenger-in-chief.

SATANIC PANIC

Producer: Dallas Sonnier, Amanda Presmyk and Adam Goldworm
Director: Chelsea Stardust
Writer: Grady Hendrix
Stars: Rebecca Romijn, Hayley Griffith, Ruby Modine, Arden Myrin, Jordan Ladd, Whitney Moore, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Michael Polish, Hannah Stocking, A. J. Bowen, Skeeta Jenkins, Mike E. Winfield and Jerry O'Connell
Studio: RLJ Entertainment

D

A pizza delivery girl finds herself targeted by a bunch of upper-crust customers as a potential sacrificial victim of a dark ritual in “Satanic Panic,” a horror comedy that unfortunately fails on both counts.

Samantha, or Sam (Hayley Griffith), is the new kid at the pizza joint run by Mr. Styles (Skeeta Jenkins), and so she’s relegated to the worst routes—the ones known to be tip-free—by her two scummy colleagues (AJ Bowen and Mike E. Winfield). The job takes her to a trio of no-win stops (a frat boy who has her help him move furniture, a woman who asks her to watch a gross act, an old lady who gives her an ugly blouse as a tip) before in desperation for gas money she agrees to do a delivery to Mill Basin, a ritzy part of town.

There she’s not only stiffed but is stuck with a motorcycle that won’t start. To get some help she effectively breaks into the palatial mansion, only to find a bunch of Satanists in red robes, under direction from snooty Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn) and her shrill assistant Gypsy (Arden Myrin), being prepared for an invocation of the demon Baphomet, who demands a virginal sacrifice to be impregnated.

Since Danica has had to shelve the idea of using her own daughter Judi (Ruby Modine) as the requisite victim—a prologue shows that the girl succumbed to the advances of a boy, only to have her mother break in on them and exact her revenge—she focuses on Sam as a possible substitute. In her desperation to escape, Sam frees Judi from her captors—including a couple of kids and their babysitter—and the two join forces to get away. Mayhem and bloodletting result, some of it pretty incomprehensible, until the sacrificial ceremony.

There’s a shred of social commentary to “Satanic Panic”—the idea that “little people” are taken advantage of by the rich and powerful. It’s the same idea that animated Brian Yuzna’s “Society” back in 1989, but that movie was a dark satire while this one is just a messy, amateurish farce. One imagines that the original concept was more ambitious—the story was concocted by the team of Ted Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix, who worked together on the interesting “Mohawk,” but the former left the project, Hendrix wrote the screenplay on his own, and directorial duties were assumed by Chelsea Stardust, who seems to have little idea of how to deal with actors except to encourage the shrillest, most strident performances possible from them.

That’s especially true of Romijn and Myrin, who are, respectively, arch and frenetic, but Griffith and Modine manage a more easygoing manner as the inevitable “last girls standing” (or being staked out on an altar), though the material is hardly conducive to either being really winning. Veteran Jerry O’Connell appears in a single scene near the start as Danica’s husband, and seems pretty much to be winging it; one can understand his discomfort, since the script requires him to do some awfully embarrassing things over the course of just a few minutes’ screen time.

Technically the movie looks pretty tacky; although the interiors and exteriors are rather attractive, Mark Evans’ cinematography is glossy and overly bright, and Michael Sale’s editing has a choppy, uncertain rhythm. The music score is by a group called Wolfman of Mars; ’nuff said. There are plenty of gore effects scattered throughout the movie, but they’re all of the chintzy hand-made kind (no expensive CGI here), and are more likely to provoke snickers instead of gasps (one, in which a guy has his entrails yanked bloodily out of his mouth, might even raise a guffaw).

“Satanic Panic” is the second film to be released under the revived Fangoria banner. The first was the regrettable “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.” That makes two strikes out of the gate, and one wonders how many more misfires even the most undemanding audiences will tolerate from this source.