Rambo III (1988)

Rambo III (1988)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Peter MacDonald

Starring:Sylvester Stallone, Marc de Jonge, Kurtwood Smith, and Richard Crenna

At this point in his life, John Rambo (Stallone, of course) just wants to be left alone. He lives and works at a monastery in Thailand, and he’d rather practice Buddhism than war. Though he does do some stickfighting on the side so he can win some extra cash from the locals. When  his old buddy from ‘Nam, Col. Trautman (Crenna) finds him and wants him to fight in Afghanistan against the evil Russian baddies, Rambo initially declines the offer. But when the head evil Russian, Col. Zaysen (de Jonge), kidnaps and tortures Trautman, Rambo snaps in to action. He goes from Buddhist monk to one-man wrecking crew at the drop of a hat, annihilating everything in his path as he helps the Afghanis - who, we must remember, were the good guys during this particular conflict. Will Rambo live to blow things up another day?

John Rambo returns - again - for this third and not-quite-final installment. In 1988, the world was still in the grip of Rambo Fever, which necessitated this second sequel, and later the cartoon series, Rambo and the Forces of Freedom, and finally the toy line based on the cartoon. And speaking of one-dimensional animated characters, here Stallone looks like a human cartoon. 

Much like how the original Rocky (1976) was a sensitive, downbeat drama for the most part which then got distorted into something unrecognizable by the time of the countless sequels, here it’s easy to forget the original First Blood (1982) and its sensitive, troubled John Rambo character. Now he’s a ‘roided up superhero who can essentially leap tall buildings in a single bound and if he breathes on a helicopter it blows up.

Now, if you overlook the history of the Rambo series (hey, shouldn’t this movie be called “First Blood III”? No movies in the series before this were called “Rambo”...but we digress) there is plenty of stupid fun to be had. There is action and adventure aplenty, and first-time director (though he’d been in the film industry for many years prior) Peter MacDonald pours it on with aplomb. 

Near-constant blow-ups, machine-gun shooting, knife-throws, horse chases, neck snaps, and tank and helicopter battles ensue. As exploding helicopter enthusiasts know, this has one of the best of all time. The explosions are classic 1988 explosions, and with a very big budget behind it, everything looks top-notch and they clearly didn’t skimp. 

Of course, there is also the Prerequisite Torture - this time of Trautman - and we also get the classic “yelling while shooting a machine gun”, the exploding guard tower, and the evil Russkies, among many other cliches, but they’re the FUN cliches we all love and enjoy. You wouldn’t even think this movie would be necessary after Rocky single-handedly conquered Russia in Rocky IV (1985), but here Stallone goes again, basically winning the Cold War single-handedly - well, with Reagan of course. 

Clearly the Italian film industry was paying attention, as there are countless...er...TRIBUTES to this particular Rambo outing, too many to name here. But as much as we enjoyed Rom Kristoff, Brent Huff, and Reb Brown, among others, following in his footsteps, there is without a doubt only one John Rambo.

Sure, Stallone doesn’t clearly delineate his words, and his excessive slurring causes you to need to put the subtitles on, but not to worry. Most of the second half of the movie is without dialogue, and is essentially 45 minutes of crud blowing up. Its nearest rival in that department is our beloved Commander (1988) - and, truth be told, Commander is probably more enjoyable and a better movie all around, and it was all done on a far lower budget. 

But who needs words when Stallone’s mullet and almost 100-percent-of-the-running-time shirtlessness do the talking? Seeing as how he co-wrote the movie, and was juicing to a ridiculous degree, we felt it was pretty ‘vein’ of him. But it’s all part of the fun, we suppose. Because it was the wonderful 80’s, things were just bigger back then - bigger hair, bigger cell phones, bigger houses, etc. In the ever-escalating world of Rambo sequels, it means bigger knives, bigger machine guns, and far more lethal bows-and-arrows. 

Of course it’s stupid, but it’s ENJOYABLY stupid. You root for Rambo to blow the bad guys to smithereens, and you have a good time doing it. As we’ve mentioned before, characters like Rambo - and, by extension, movies like this - stand as a bulwark against our wussy, overly-PC society. If we stop watching them, we’ll all slide even further down the PC slope into oblivion. For that reason alone, Rambo III is worth seeing, if not owning. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies: Exploding Helicopter and  Full Moon Reviews!


Deadly Ransom (1998)

Deadly Ransom (1998)- *1\2

Directed by: Robert Hyatt

Starring: Loren Avedon, Lisa Crosato, Francesco Quinn, J.J. Perry, and Brion James

Max Lightener (Avedon) is a Navy Lieutenant, used to staging raids with his strike team. When his fiancĂ©, Jackie (Crosato) is kidnapped, he teams up with a guy named Luis (Quinn) and snaps into action. It turns out the main baddie behind the kidnapping is a drug-doing no-goodnik named Bobby Rico (James). Faced with such an opponent, Lightener later calls in the assistance of his strike team so he can initiate “Operation Shadow”, i.e., get his girlfriend back. Also Lightener supposedly has some precognitive abilities a la Michael Pare in Blink of an Eye (1992), but that’s not developed very well. Will Lightener strike like lightning or lighten his load?

Okay, let’s start with some positives. (There aren’t many, so don’t get comfortable). In an apples-to-apples comparison (or should we say Avedon-to-Avedon comparison?), Deadly Ransom is better than the other Avedon-produced film, The Silent Force (2001).  While it does have a similar feel, which makes sense, Deadly Ransom has some funny knife-throws, an exploding helicopter which looks like it was lifted from some other source, Avedon shoots people while sliding down a rope like an angry, full-grown gentleman invading a DZ Discovery Zone, and one member of his strike force looks like noted pervert Anthony Weiner. This calls into question the effectiveness of his strike force. The movie contains shooting, blow-ups, and some silly fights. It's lit well.

There. Now that we’ve front-loaded what positive attributes we could scrape together out of the movie’s 97 minutes (including the end credits), here are the problems. Avedon remains unlikable. It’s hard for the audience to get behind his mission because we simply don’t like him very much. You can tell he produced the movie because there are multiple scenes of his face. Evidently he believes his face is so powerful it can stop a sniper’s bullet. As we all remember, Avedon played an evil kickboxer that fought David Hasselhoff in a classic episode of Baywatch entitled “Kicks”. THAT should have been a full-length feature instead of Deadly Ransom. Avedon should have realized that.

The tone of Deadly Ransom just feels off, and there’s no character development. Just a smidgen of depth to the characters - we don’t ask for much - would have gone a long way here. That is replaced by bickering between Avedon and Quinn, which is always a bad shortcut. When they’re not bickering, they’re training shirtlessly in the desert. Yay. Proving that the movie is straight-up racist, instead of dying by knife-throws like everybody else, when they kill a Native American, they throw a tomahawk at his head. Presumably they don’t know the meaning of the word “subtlety”. You don’t need to prove a cultural point with your choice of weaponry.

Despite the presence of an automated tank that looks like it has a smiley face, Deadly Ransom just doesn’t engage the audience. Is it really even that different from Mike Norris extravaganza Survival Game (1987) - just another Kidnap Slog? Sadly the answer is no, and it’s hard to imagine video store patrons consciously choosing Deadly Ransom at their local video store in 1998, or at any other time. Even the great Brion James can’t save it, and that’s not a good sign. It all feels kind of junky and trivial, and really shouldn’t go on anybody’s must-see list.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Thunder III (1988)

Thunder III (1988)- * *

Directed by: Fabrizio De Angelis

Starring: Mark Gregory, Werner Pochath, Jeffrey Domo, and John Phillip Law

Thunder (Gregory) returns in this third installment, wrapping up the trilogy. This time around, our old pal Thunder is STILL trying to live in peace in the American West, even mentoring a young Indian boy named Little Owl (Jeffrey Domo) in his Native American ways. When a group of rowdy rednecks led by Magnum (Pochath) assault and even torture Thunder, seemingly just for kicks, Thunder wants retribution. 

Yet again he seeks the help of local law enforcement, this time in the form of Sheriff Jeff - yes, just Sheriff JEFF (JPL). Naturally, Sheriff Jeff is unable to help Thunder, so Thunder takes the law into his own hands once again. Because he was promised a rather modest sum of $53,000 to rebuild his Indian village, and he didn’t get it, Thunder just goes on a rampage of large-scale vandalism and property destruction, eventually blowing up the businesses of the local good ole boys who wronged him. Will Sheriff Jeff be able to stop the madness? Or will the one-man Native American wrecking crew that is Thunder proceed to take down the whole local economy of Las Cruces, New Mexico?

If you’re watching Thunder III (by now, the filmmakers are assuming we’re so familiar with the character that they dropped the “Warrior” from the title), it means you really care. And if you do indeed care about the Thunder saga enough to stick through three entries of what is essentially the same movie over and over again, then this movie is for you - and only for you. It almost feels like one last send-off for fans of the trilogy, because there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and it appears the filmmakers did indeed presume some prior familiarity amongst the viewership. In other words, no one’s going to START with Thunder III. You’re here because you want to be.

It feels like there’s less budget to work with this time around, and there probably wasn’t a sky-high budget to begin with for the other two movies. Thus, it has a junkier overall feel. But that also may be because they stretched out what, in another movie, would be one or two sequences into a whole 82-minute feature. Consequently, there’s not much actual movie here. 

The lack of substance makes the whole thing feel a bit off, like you’re expecting some context or some other events to occur - but, as stated earlier, maybe Ludman felt that was not needed because, in his view, the audience had all the context they needed. So Thunder can be free to beat Bounce fabric softener boxes off store shelves with a bat with impunity.

Pochath stands out, as usual, as the leader of the rednecks, and there are some nice locations and decent blow-ups, but it’s kind of “been there, done that” - Thunder faces the usual red tape, he gets revenge, there’s the Prerequisite Torture of the hero, and some “Indian racism” by the evil whiteys (who have goofy “Southern” accents even though it doesn’t take place in the South). 

Instead of Bo Svenson as the sheriff, as he was in the previous two entries, now it’s John Phillip Law, or JPL as we call him. We’d love to know what JPL thought about all this. Someone should make a documentary about the actors that appeared in these Italian productions. Maybe we can somehow know Oliver Reed or Richard Harris’s feelings about their time making these things.

As you might imagine, by the time of Thunder III, everyone was out of ideas and the franchise ran out of gas. There wasn’t really all that much there to begin with. It’s more a testament to the ingenuity of the Italian film industry than anything else. They could whip up a movie out of nothing, like taking a little leftover garlic and pasta and coming up with a reasonably satisfying meal. Unfortunately, nothing here sticks to the ribs. Even still, it was released on Imperial on VHS in the U.S., meaning the whole Thunder saga made it to American video store shelves in the 80’s - which is more than you can say for a lot of other productions, Italian or otherwise.

Thunder III is - pretty much exclusively - for fans of the first two. It’s hard to imagine anyone else getting on board with Thunder’s antics for a third go-round. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty