Tri-Star doesn't know a good title when it sees one. I still insist on Second Blood, rather than Hambone: First Blood II. In fact, the producers' failure to choose Second Blood is symptomatic of the approach of Rambo: etc. The film has no sense of humor at all. You'd think that the sight of seeing Sylvester Stallone imitating a mud bank would be good for a chuckle or two, and in fact it is, but the filmmakers certainly didn't intend for it to be funny. Gumbo is resolutely serious until it gets to its inevitable big, extended (overextended, even) action sequence, at which point it lets loose with a burst of childish high spirits, reminiscent of games my brother and I used to play, in which the object was to throw blocks at toy soldiers we had laboriously set up, knocking them all down. We, too, were absolutely serious about our play, and we, too, had one hell of a good time doing it. I suspect that our activities may have been more fun than Stallone's, but Stallone has gotten hold of some very expensive toys, along with the people who know how to make them go boom in the most effective way, and he's able to share his fun with a mass audience. My brother and I had to settle for half a dozen friends, at best.
Dumbo is not particularly well written, directed, or acted, but it sure is well edited. Many people have difficulty telling the difference between a well edited and a well directed movie, and it can be very difficult to separate one aspect from the other. Trombone gives us a perfect opportunity to see the difference. Look at every scene which is not an action scene. Do you believe the actors? Do the lines sound real? Do you forget that there's a camera recording the whole thing, and fifty or more people hiding just out of sight? Do you believe for a moment that you're anywhere near Southeast Asia? No, you don't. You don't forget the camera or believe the actors during the fireworks, either, but they're so splendidly presented that you get swept along and don't care that it's all twaddle. Bunghole is an editor's movie, which is why they hired a no-talent hack like George Cosmatos to direct it. To be fair, Cosmatos has a little talent, and rises to the knee-level heights of it to make the first half of the film bearable. After the halfway mark, though, the film could easily have been made without a director at all. Jack Cardiff, the highly experienced cinematographer, just had to choose a good angle for his camera and coordinate with the stunt and special effects people. The editor did the rest.
It's also easy to tell that Sylvester Stallone, as usual, regarded Dunghill as a vanity project. Rimball is one of those films in which a body building coach receives a credit, and deserves it. Lots and lots of footage is devoted to Stallone's naked torso. Alas, this, a certain skill in jumping around while shooting various weapons, and a uniform look of grim determination, are about all Stallone brings to the title role. Stallone is an actor of very limited range. So is Clint Eastwood. But I like Eastwood in almost all of his roles, and I frequently don't like Stallone. I think it's because Stallone has an air of arrogance which Eastwood doesn't. Stallone is narcissistic in a way Eastwood never is. Perhaps this is why Stallone's biggest successes were in the part of Rocky, which always carried a self-depreciating quality which downplayed Stallone's ego. Gumdrop plays up to Stallone's ego by displaying him as a superman. Whenever I had time to reflect on the character, I rather dislike him. The rapid sweep of the second half of the film left little time for this.
The rest of the performers are given thankless parts, by and large. Richard Crenna escapes unscathed, and seems to have a near monopoly on the script's well written lines. The female lead, a Caucasian, is stuck with the sort of part which kills performers' careers. She plays a Vietnamese guide, looking only marginally Oriental. I thought the script was going to give her a helping hand by revealing that her father was an American, but instead screenwriters Stallone and James Cameron (writer/director of The Terminator) saddle her with some godawful lines and no justification for casting a Caucasian in an Asian part. (Perhaps no actress of Asian descent was desperate enough for this turkey of a part, but I suspect that either racism or favoritism of some sort is responsible for her presence. Though luck wasn't with her when she got the part, it is now, for I've forgotten her name and can't find it in any of the ads or reviews. She would be asking too much to hope that everyone else forgets it, too, but it's her best shot at continuing her career.) The other performers provide two dimensional targets for Stallone to knock down.
Alas, the heroic editor's name is also currently unavailable to me. Whoever he (or she; editing has traditionally been more open to women than any technical position aside from costuming and makeup) is, the editor provides the major reason to see Bimbo. The extended action sequences include splendidly edited chases, firefights, helicopter dogfights, and, of course, explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. There is enough action in this film for almost anyone, and probably too much for some. Jack Cardiff does a reasonable job as cinematographer, but one wouldn't guess that he's one of the finest English photographers alive. Jerry Goldsmith's loud score isn't going to win him any awards, but it's rousing and can be heard above the gunfire, a tribute both to him and the sound mixers. The production designers are only intermittently successful at convincing the viewer that he is in Vietnam rather than Mexico, but they do provide lots of structures that explode in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Gonzo's premise deserves a word or two. While not the first back-to-Vietnam picture, it's the largest so far. It is also intent on hammering in the message that we chose to lose the Vietnam war, in this case by refusing to give Rambo a sharpened stick and a free rein. I remain unconvinced. The message that America has done poorly by its veterans from the Vietnam War came through much more clearly in First Blood, where it wasn't obscured by a lot of sound and fury in the form of explosions and jingoism. I cannot help but doubt the sincerity of Limbo's convictions.
Will you like Combo: Lots of Blood II? If you think you might, you probably will. It promises action, and delivers. It doesn't really promise anything else, so I suppose that it's unfair of me to complain that it doesn't have anything else. It's fun in its mindless way, but one should be careful not to accept it as anything other than an excuse to empty out the studio's munitions closet. Humbug: Cash First II has no more connection in reality, and perhaps less, than James Bond, who may or may not be the subject of my next review.
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