"Rambo: First Blood Part II"

The extras elucidate eternal truths about the quintessential American hero. Meanwhile, Stallone whips ass.

Published September 19, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Rambo: First Blood Part II"
Directed by George P. Cosmatos
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Julia Nickson
Artisan Home Entertainment; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director's commentary, documentary, production notes, trivia game

"Rambo: First Blood Part II" is such an unashamedly lunkheaded movie, it almost makes you nostalgic for the Reagan years. This time capsule of mid-'80s U.S. arrogance showcases Sylvester Stallone as monosyllabic Vietnam vet John Rambo, who is asked by his former commander (Richard Crenna) to go back into the Southeast Asian jungle to photograph a suspected American POW camp. He is subsequently betrayed by his country and takes matters into his own hands. He frees some POWs and kills lots of Vietnamese and their Soviet benefactors. In short, we win.

Stallone thought he was merely doing a by-the-numbers sequel when he committed to a second Rambo film. The first outing for the character was little more than a backwoods pissing contest between Rambo and some cops. But "First Blood Part II" tapped -- accidentally, it should be noted -- into a surge of U.S. patriotism and a bizarre willingness to reimagine the Vietnam War as anything but a solid ass whipping for the most powerful nation on the planet. The script as written by James Cameron (yup, that James Cameron) and rejiggered by Stallone depicts Rambo as an unstoppable killing machine, and deliriously piles on the motives for him to go on a homicidal rampage. Not since Charles Bronson single-handedly cleaned up the streets of New York in "Death Wish" did audiences cheer so lustily for so much carnage.

"I want our country to love us as much as we love it," Stallone rasps to Crenna after being asked what he wants in return for having slaughtered so many citizens of countries with which America is not at war. What's not to love?

The DVD version is of a piece with the movie itself. A documentary, "An American Hero's Journey," explores the genesis of the Rambo character in an utterly straight-faced, academic manner, citing mythmeister Joseph Campbell, among other sources of inspiration. Production notes and a biography of Stallone are both presented in slide-show fashion, but, no doubt assuming that many viewers may not be able to sound out all the words by themselves, the text is read aloud by a narrator. There's also a really lame trivia game in which correct answers are rewarded by the sound of Rambo firing off his machine gun. Director George P. Cosmatos provides commentary, but he seldom rises above descriptions of how shots were lighted or sequences were edited.

"Although it's a movie from the '80s, in a way it is eternal," Cosmatos says in one of his more lucid moments. Actually, no. It's a movie from the '80s. And that's enough.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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