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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Rambo-Last Blood: Rambo No. 5

Rambo-Last Blood: Rambo No. 5

On its last legs, rather last leg, the Rambo series takes one last shot at the franchise, extending its title from the 1982 sample, First Blood. Nobody can quarrel with this confessional finality of the moniker of Last Blood, which could not but be the last poke of the syringe, or a last bow to the bow, in a subject that has already drained itself out, and badly needed a transfusion to save itself. If Last Blood is that transfusion, it is contaminated, for it is 10 years over its expiry, an ‘expiry’ that dates back to Rambo (2008).

John Rambo is now a mountain scout, who, on horseback, saves people caught in violent storms. But one deadly storm claims two victims, to his dismay. John is unable to save a woman, whose husband and son, however, survive, thanks to his timely arrival, and special skills. Rambo has inherited his late father's horse ranch in Bowie, Arizona, which he manages with his old friend, Maria Beltran, and her grand-daughter, Gabrielle, whose mother is no more and her father has deserted her. The ranch has a long tunnel, where John has laid many traps and fitted myriad contraptions, as if he had a premonition that they would be prove indispensable in the not to distant future.

Gabrielle reveals to Rambo that a friend of hers, Jezel, has found her biological father, Miguel, in Mexico, after an intensive search, at her behest. Against Rambo and Maria's wishes, Gabrielle secretly drives across the border to Mexico, to ask why Miguel had abandoned her and her mother. Jezel leads Gabrielle to Miguel's apartment, where she learns that he has remarried and that he never cared for Gabrielle or her mother.

Jezel takes a heartbroken Gabrielle to a local club, where she is drugged and kidnapped by abductors of a Mexican cartel. Meanwhile, Maria learns about Gabrielle's secret trip to Mexico from Jezel, and is extremely worried that she has not returned yet. Reluctantly, Rambo travels to Mexico and interrogates both Miguel and Jezel about Gabrielle's whereabouts. Jezel reluctantly leads Rambo to the club, where Gabrielle was last seen,  and he confronts El Flako, the man who last spoke with Gabrielle.

A man who has actually fought in the Gaza war, Dan Gordon (Wyatt Earp, Passenger 57, Murder in the First, The Hurricane) developed the story, and it begins with what looks to me like a hurricane. Sylvester Stallone has co-written the story and the screenplay, the latter with Matt Cirulnick, who wrote the film Paid in Full and the print version of the reimagining of the Wild West's greatest lawman, Wyatt Earp. Cirulnick may not be a name to reckon with just yet, but Stallone has written/co-written all the previous Rambo outings, not to mention the Expendables, Rocky, Cobra, Cliffhanger and Creed. He is co-producer on Rambo V. Okay, so he did not direct Rambo V, though for long he was flaunted as the man who’ll do the job, after Rambo 2008, the ‘success’ (at least limited) of which belied his age—he was 62 then.

Speaking Spanish himself, with his adoptive sister, he shows a simmering hatred for the Mexicans, bordering on racism (Stallone is a Republican Party supporter). On learning that Gabrielle has gone to Mexico and could be in trouble, he follows her to the lion’s lair, with no preparation at all. The carving of a cross-like scar across the cheeks of both Gabrielle and John by the slave-trade cartel appears contrived, as does the whole angle of the investigative journalist whose sister was killed by the gang. When Gabrielle is fighting for her life, Rambo chooses to drive her home, several hours away, instead of taking her to a medic.

In the climax, he lures an entire gang of hard-core criminals into his tunnel, and they let themselves get decimated, one by one, falling victim to Rambo’s arsenal of weapons, taking turns at getting killed in goriest imaginable ways. Not once do they regroup or strategise. In fact, they all seem to be waiting with bated breath, for the employment of the updated, 2018 edition, bow, an innovative weapon that is trade-mark Rambo. And then there is the obligatory doffing the hat and singing paeans in a nostalgic climactic ode, to the one and only Rambo, a walk down memory lane, 1982 onwards, when Stallone was 36, to 2018, when he was 72. Indulgent are we? Blowing our own trumpet?

A project of this nature, wherein an extended lease of life is being given to a 72 year-old has-been star but still a good draw, needed a director of better acumen than Adrian Grunberg. Grunberg worked on several episodes of Narcos as a second unit director and was the assistant director on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and on Sense8. His film debut, Get the Gringo, aka How I Spent My Summer Vacation overseas, produced, co-written by and starring Mel Gibson, did not get a theatrical release in North America, in spite of a high rating on review aggregator sites.

Grunberg is unable to bring any fresh feel into the film. The hurricane is disconnected from the rest of the movie, which takes ages to get going, and then makes-up by blood-letting of the waterfall or fountain genre. Bringing in a teenaged character in a substantial role, to attract younger audiences, was not a bad ploy, if only the teenager contributed to the narrative in ways other than being drugged and pushed into the sex/drugs trade. The other young actor, her friend, is a real wimp of a character. In between, we have the gangsters, quaintly named Victor and Hugo, who are neither teenagers nor grand-daddies, but they are so stereo-typical that it hurts. And their petty posturing and quarrelling is puerile.

It almost sounds a grave injustice to judge Sylvester Stallone’s performance here, though we cannot escape what’s on hand. Suffice to say that we have seen him do better, much better, both in terms of acting and action. While he has outdone himself in the gruesome, grisly and ghastly levels to which an action film can rise (or fall), and he is remarkably fit for a man of 72, Last Blood is clot on his career. Seville, Spain-born, Paz Vega has starred in dozens of films in Europe and North America, including Sex and Lucia and Spanglish. She worked no less a director than Pedro Almodóvar in Talk to Her and I’m So Excited, and was directed by Jada Pinkett Smith in The Human Contract, produced by Will Smith. Paz also played Maria Callas to Nicole Kidman’s Grace of Monaco. Great bio, not much to show. Not as journalist Carmen Delgado.

Adriana Barraza as Maria Beltran impresses with her natural manner, and you realise why she is an acting teacher too. Yvette Monreal (TV; film debut) is Gabrielle, who does well in the bonding scenes and gets some sympathy in her dying moments. Watch some hamming from Fenessa Pineda as Jezel. Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Hugo Martinez and Óscar Jaenada as Victor Martinez, the brothers running the multi-million dollar prostitution racket, look real mean and majorly menacing, as they should, with Hugo saved for the finalé face-off.

Brian Tyler comes back after Rambo to do the music score, and he does score, not enough to save the film. Running for 89 minutes, it is unable to pace the proceedings evenly. Editors Todd E. Miller and Carsten Kurpanek must share part of the blame. Cinematography by    Brendan Galvin showcases the storm rather well but the tunnel scenes are partly hazy or dimly lit, not letting us have full view of the traps and trappings.

Rambo: Last Blood, also known as Rambo V: Last Blood, does little to preserve the memory of the legendary hero of yore. Instead, the 73 year-old Sylvester Stallone will now find it difficult to live down this amateurish, insipid concoction. Give this misadventure a miss, and catch-up on earlier exploits of John Rambo, if you haven’t already. They are guaranteed more rambunctious than Rambo No. 5 (after the song, with apologies to Lou Bega).

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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