Film Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Also known as: Rambo II (unofficial title), Rambo (shortened title)
Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron, Kevin Jarre
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Voyo Goric, Jeff Imada (uncredited)

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Anabasis N.V., TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Pressure? Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing: what you choose to call hell, he calls home.” – Trautman

The first Rambo movie, First Blood, is and will always be the best of the Rambo films. Frankly, it’s really hard to top but this one does comes pretty close while being a very different kind of movie.

At their core, both films are action flicks with a one man army fighting for survival against man, the wild and every other dangerous thing that arises.

However, the first picture was more about making a statement regarding the treatment of Vietnam veterans returning from war to a home that didn’t want them while this film was much more about balls out action and fun.

That’s not to say that this chapter in the franchise doesn’t have a message, it does. It sees John Rambo return to Vietnam in an effort to rescue some of the P.O.W.s that were left behind by their own government. The film critiques the U.S. government’s handling of the P.O.W. situation and shows that the government wasn’t actually too keen on getting them out. Rambo is essentially set up to fail but he blasts his way through the dangerous jungle, falls in love, loses love, rescues some soldiers, kills several evil men and then exposes his own government for spitting in the faces of the men that lost their lives and sanity for a government that abandoned them.

There are actually a lot of similarities between this movie and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action film series. As much as I love those movies, this just feels like a better, more polished version of what those movies were. That being said, Missing In Action was actually rushed out and released in 1984 to avoid a lawsuit, as it was based off of a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for this film.

Out of all the Rambo films, this one features my favorite cast. Alongside Stallone, Crenna gets a bigger role here and then you’ve got the great Martin Kove, who I wish had a bit more screen time, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff and Julia Nickson, who I will always remember most for her part in this film and how it inspired and gave hope to John Rambo that there could be life beyond war. Additionally, Voyo Goric is in this and while his name might not be known to most people, he was in several action flicks of the time and always played a good, intimidating and convincing heavy.

As an adult, I know and recognize that First Blood is better. However, as a kid, this was my Rambo film, as it was so over the top and action heavy that it made my young mind explode with excitement and wonder. It felt like a G.I. Joe character come to life and it was just violent and cool in a way that makes it a near perfect ’80s action picture. It feels like a Cannon Films movie with a bigger budget and a bigger star. Granted, it could’ve used a few ninjas.

One thing that makes this picture work so well is the pacing. For example, I love Rambo III but it isn’t as good as this one because it has a slow pace that hinders it. I’ll talk about that more when I review it. The pacing here though is perfect, the film keeps moving forward, a lot happens but you don’t get stuck in a spot of fixated on some plot point. Rambo blasts or punches something just about every five minutes.

Some may accuse this of being a mindless action movie, it’s not. It has a message and a point to make but it also doesn’t let that message get in the way of what’s most important: action, muscles, bullets, explosions and heavy machinery.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Also known as: Alligator 2 (UK video title)
Release Date: March 28th, 1991
Directed by: Jon Hess
Written by: Curt Allen
Music by: Jack K. Tillar
Cast: Joseph Bologna, Woody Brown, Harlan Arnold, Nicolas Cowan, Brock Peters, Dee Wallace, Carmen Filpi, Voyo Goric

Golden Hawk Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It was about the size of an Eldorado.” – J.J. Hodges

Man, did this film miss the fucking mark.

How hard is it to make a movie about a killer alligator? Also, by 1991, there were enough killer animal movies to look at and see what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, nothing in this film works. Hell, I don’t even think the actors were working.

The film stars Joseph Bologna, who should have changed his stage name to Joey Bologney. We also get to see Brock Peters in this, who I always enjoyed in Star Trek films, but here he looks like he misses his Starfleet friends. Horror queen Dee Wallace is also in the picture but I think she was just scooping up paychecks by this point. Although, in all seriousness, it is always a delight to see Dee Wallace because she can brighten up the worst movies.

The first Alligator was a badass, fun, killer animal movie. It had great moments with the gator going banana sandwich on people too dumb or too slow to get out of its way. There are so many cool scenes in the original film that one would think that a sequel would try to top them all. But this dud of a motion picture fails… miserably.

Nothing exciting happens over the course of this entire film. Even the gator effects are shit and pale in comparison to some of the coolest gator spots from the previous outing.

I was bored watching this and to be honest, I had some high hopes for it, as I enjoy the first flick and I vaguely remembered enjoying this one as a kid. But maybe I only saw the first one and thought that I saw both of these.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: I guess, Alligator but by comparison it makes that movie look like Jaws.

Film Review: Lionheart (1990)

Also known as: León (alternate title), Wrong Bet (Australia), Lion – the Streetfighter (Denmark), Full Contact (France), A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave (UK)
Release Date: March 1st, 1990 (Argentina)
Directed by: Sheldon Lettich
Written by: S.N. Warren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sheldon Lettich
Music by: John Scott
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Brian Thompson, Ashley Johnson, Michel Qissi, Voyo Goric

Imperial Entertainment Corporation, Guild, Sunil, Wong Bet Productions, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes life is… is… ugly. And stupid. And mean.” – Lyon

Something about this film just melts my heart. Yeah, I know it’s just some ass kicking Van Damme movie from early in his career but out of all those early pictures, this one really has a comforting charm and is a real feel good movie.

Maybe Bloodsport and Kickboxer win out in badass points but Lionheart isn’t far behind, as the action and the fights are aplenty and they’re all interesting and unique.

Where Bloodsport featured a variety of gimmicky fighters in one arena, Lionheart gives us a variety of gimmicky fighters in a variety of arenas: under a bridge, a parking garage, a swimming pool, surrounded by a ring of cars with headlights on, a rich dude’s tent, a racquetball court and maybe a few others that don’t immediately come to mind. Lionheart truly felt like a fighting video game come to life, which to my twelve year-old mind in 1991 was pretty friggin’ incredible. Oddly, Van Damme would go on to make a movie based on the Street Fighter video game and it wasn’t anywhere near as good as this.

One interesting thing about this picture is that Van Damme helped to write the story. He also teamed up with director Sheldon Lettich, who he would continue to work with over the years. In fact, Van Damme and Lettich are currently trying to get a sequel made to Double Impact.

Lionheart is an action film with a decent story where you actually care about the people in it. While that’s a rare thing, Van Damme pulls you in even if he wasn’t a master of acting in 1990. He’s proven that he actually has acting chops later in life with JCVD and his current project for Amazon. But really, no one watched these kind of movies for superb acting prowess. Needless to say, Van Damme is a tough but sweet character here and it is still one of my favorite performances that he ever gave.

The only real disappointment for me, was seeing Brian Thompson in this but not getting to see him actually square off with Van Damme. He was absolutely terrifying and intimidating in Cobra and in several episodes of The X-Files. He’s one of my favorite heavies from the era and he is pretty much just the sidekick to an evil rich bitch in this movie.

I like Lionheart, a whole friggin’ lot. If you are an old school JCVD fan, you probably do too.

Rating: 7.75/10