Rambo III (1988) (part 2 of 4)

Back to the film, Rambo is brooding (his second favorite hobby, after running around shirtless with heavy artillery) in an unfinished room when Trautman enters to have a philosophical chat.

Rambo III (1988) (part 2 of 4)

It centers on the theory that Rambo is trying to run from his true calling (namely, kicking ass with maximum ferocity) but can’t, because it’s always been in him. It’s not a terrible scene; Crenna (who actually can act) does most of the legwork while Stallone just reacts, but I do have to chuckle at this, because I can only imagine this scene was put at the beginning of the film after somebody told Stallone how his speeches in the previous two films shot the intensity of the climaxes right in the foot. Happily, we don’t get any blubbering from Sly about picking up pieces of his friend, or longwinded speeches about patriotism. The goofy shit manifests itself differently here.

Rambo says he’s not ready to move on, and Trautman accepts it, telling Rambo to look him up when he gets back home. Rambo apologizes, saying, “It has to end for me sometime,” and we move on quickly to the next scene.

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After a few shots of Rambo brooding while his theme music plays (the slow, sentimental version), we go to somewhere in Afghanistan at night. Trautman and his unit advance on… Well, we can’t really tell, as they’re in the middle of the goddamn desert at night. They could have gotten off track and now be a few miles outside of Barstow for all I know.

The wind howls for a bit, and they look around, until suddenly, an enormous attack helicopter strafes them, taking out all but a few guys and blowing some jeeps and trucks up real good. Sadly, blowing stuff up is about the only thing you can claim this movie does “real good”.

An accented voice comes over a loudspeaker, instructing the surviving soldiers to drop their weapons and stay put. Since Trautman isn’t a muscle-bound guy with big, puffy poodle hair and a co-screenwriter credit, he surrenders. Well, okay, he just stares at the spotlight from the chopper in dismay, but I think we can just call that a surrender.

Yes, it really is that easy to capture a trained Green Beret. All you need is a huge helicopter armed to the teeth and the element of surprise. It also helps if said Green Beret is played by a noted character actor rather than the star of the movie. If this is any indication of the bad guy’s efficiency, Rambo will have a tough time… Well, actually, no. He won’t. I forgot who wrote this shit, sorry.

Back at the monastery, Rambo is helping fix a wheel on an overturned wagon when Griggs appears with news of Trautman’s capture. Apparently, nothing can be done through official channels (naturally), but now that a friend is in danger, Rambo is willing to go into Afghanistan to get Trautman out. Good thing we had that earlier scene where he explains his motivations. Otherwise, he might look like a selfish muscle-bound dickhead who can barely muster the energy to put together a coherent sentence.

Say what you will about him, but the man isn’t selfish or a dickhead.

Griggs agrees to arrange for Rambo to go in, but lets him know if he’s captured or if the story is made public, the U.S. will disavow any knowledge of him. Rambo replies, “I’m used to it.” And the next thing you know, we’re in a Pakistani town near the Afghan border.

Rambo makes his way through the village to a store where a man is arranging some guns. He asks for a man named Mousa Gani, and I have to say that Middle Eastern names and Sylvester Stallone’s voice do not make a good couple. Good thing he doesn’t talk much here.

Rambo III (1988) (part 2 of 4)

He meets Mousa (Sasson Gabai) and after the introductions, we get a look at the gear Griggs has supplied Rambo with, including a blue light stick, which leads to an amusing explanation.

Rambo: It’s a blue light.
Mousa: What does it do?
Rambo: It turns blue.

Yes, Rambo grows a sense of humor in this film. Either that, or Stallone shoehorned in some jokes because another speech at the end would probably sink the movie even worse. Either way, it’s one of the few bright spots in the movie. Relatively speaking.

Mousa is less than thrilled to learn that Rambo is on his own, but goes along with it. After some more back and forth between the two, in which Mousa also says if something goes wrong, Rambo is SOL, and a shot of the first man Rambo saw in the gun shop looking sinister (I’d love to play poker with this screenplay, I’d win every hand), we meet our main villain.

Trautman is dragged into the office of the commanding officer, Colonel Zaysen (Marc de Jonge). Zaysen will not go down in history as one of cinema’s greatest villains, sad to say. He has all the tools: A decent sneer, a nasty sadistic streak, and a taste for chess to give him a cultured James Bond villain aura. But he never really becomes a character. Instead, the script has him simply go through the motions and expects that to be good enough.

Rambo III (1988) (part 2 of 4)

It’s actually quite the letdown, since the first movie had a really nice performance from Brian Dennehy, who always manages to inject a little humanity into his parts, and the second film had Steven Berkoff, who can always be counted on to give an energetic performance. Here, though—and in the recent entry too, now that I think of it—the main villain is just a cipher who shows up, does evil things, and gets killed at the end of the movie.

You know, even Missing in Action 2 had a villain worth paying a little attention to, and when Cannon is doing a better job at creating a memorable villain than you are, you’ve made some bad choices as a filmmaker.

Back to Zaysen, he and Trautman have the usual back and forth interrogation in these sorts of movies where the prisoner is not the lead. Pretty much the only noteworthy bit is where Trautman compares Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan to ours in Vietnam.

Zaysen takes this as a challenge, and then we’re back with Rambo and his new friend as they make their way to a freedom fighter camp. We get some nice location shots, and some talk about how tough the Afghan people are, and man, what I wouldn’t give for an action scene right now. Seriously, movie, we get it.

They end up going through a series of caves in order to avoid being spotted by the Russians, and if I were as good at political satire as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, I’d be having a field day right now. But I’m not, so we’ll just move on.

As they go through the caves, Mousa relates a story about an ancient war fought by one man against an entire army, and I swear, if this were any more heavy-handed my neck would be sore.

We get it! The freedom fighters are tough guys who never give up and the story you just told has a lead character similar to Rambo! Can we just get on with it? Jesus Christ!

Mousa says they’re about two hours away from the village, which means Rambo has to endure two more hours of legendary stories that bear a striking resemblance to his own life experience, but we’re spared this by another cutaway to Zaysen’s base.

Trautman is being interrogated while being hung arms first by a rope from the ceiling. This also happened in Hot Shots! Part Deux, and there it was a hell of a lot more entertaining. Zaysen wants to know the location of missiles Trautman was planning on supplying the rebels with, but only gets a response of “In your ass” from Trautman.

This goes about as well for him as can be expected, and the only thing that stops Zaysen from killing him is the appearance of that guy from the gun shop, who reports Rambo’s appearance in the region. Well, that and the fact that the gun under Trautman’s chin clearly isn’t loaded. You can tell.

Zaysen questions Trautman about Rambo, and talks about a planned rescue attempt. He leaves after saying he welcomes the attempt, and really, the fact that a goddamn parody film made a better scene of this than the original really says a lot about how lame and dull this film is for the first 45 minutes.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Rambo III (1988)

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