Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood. Directed by: Adrian Grunberg. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega. Runtime: 1h 29 min. Released: September 20, 2019.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Rambo: Last Blood” is one heck of a mixed bag. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona, dealing with old age and PTSD and living with his adopted family; his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Rambo’s like a father figure to her.

The first 20 minutes of the film feels like dull melodrama. Rambo shows off the underground tunnels (truly built for an action-packed finale) on his ranch and bonds while horseback riding with Gabriela. Then, Gabriela says she knows her father is living in Mexico and wants to go see him. Rambo and Maria basically say he’s a schmuck, but she goes anyway.

What happens next is basically the plot of Taken but with Rambo. Rambo immediately goes over the border and learns Gabriela has been kidnapped by a Mexican cartel involved in human trafficking led by the Martinez brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who are just awfully stereotypical characters.

The scenes in Mexico feel more like melodrama, especially when Gabriela tries to reconnect with her Dad and he says he never cared about her. It’s an odd scene. A journalist in Mexico, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) is an ally to Rambo and adds exposition for the cartel. She’s not an interesting character – but besides Rambo, none of the characters are great.

It’s also a shallow story you could tell someone about beat-for-beat in less than two minutes. To make matters worse, the first hour is just entirely boring with only a couple of scenes of brutal violence to keep Rambo fans interested.

Rambo article photo

Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo: Last Blood.” (IMDb)

I’ve only seen “First Blood” and the 2008 “Rambo,” but the story is so generic it only feels like a Rambo film in name, not in spirit. Any character could lead this film, but Sylvester Stallone is kick-ass in action scenes and mediocre in dramatic scenes. There’s one decent scene that’s believable in terms of emotion, but most of the other emotional aspects of the film don’t ring true.

Even at a compact 89 minutes, “Last Blood” is slow to get going. It feels slower still because I didn’t care about Gabriela’s arc, and she’s the core drive for Rambo. Their chemistry is okay, but the dialogue trying to get her to stay isn’t very strong. A lot of the dialogue feels awkward overall.

The non-stop action of the story doesn’t come until 70 minutes into the film, when Rambo sets up traps in his tunnels before luring the cartel back to his home in Arizona. The last 20 minutes plays out like an R-rated version of “Home Alone” and it’s bloody awesome. It’s gory and brutal and fun in its cartoonish way. It’s like Looney Tunes, but I love Looney Tunes and “Home Alone.Keep in mind, these scenes are a hard so there are no Macaulay Culkin cameos, here.

The shame about this film is that it’s all build-up to an action-packed finale that only lasts 20 minutes. If I could look at movies just for their finales, this would get a recommendation from me because it’s a decent time if you just like brutal action. There’s just too much crap to get through to honestly make it worth it.

Score: 50/100

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Non-Stop (2014)

Non-StopReleased: February 28, 2014. Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy. Runtime: 106 min.

As a film filled with enough red herrings to keep you guessing the whole way through, “Non-Stop” works as an effective mystery. It proposes the idea of what would happen if a trusted figure of authority turned into a supposed criminal; how would you feel about the state of national security? Not very good. It answers this in an action vehicle for Liam Neeson, who has taken to action films a bit later in his career than usual action stars. It just shows that he’s a versatile actor; and at least his characters have a good amount of humanity.

Bill Marks (Neeson) is a struggling alcoholic on an ordinary flight as a U.S. Air Marshall. Partly through the flight, he receives a mysterious text from somone on the same plane – on a secure network. The text says that the texter will kill someone every twenty minutes unless the killer is paid $150 million dollars in an off-shore account. How do you get away with murder on a crowded plane, you might ask? Well, this film shows pretty innovative ways. Marks must spring into action to save the people he pledged to protect, and simultaneously clear his name.

Neeson’s character might not be as impressive as his one featured in 2012’s “The Grey,” as far as the most human characters he’s portrayed in action flicks, but Marks is a decent character. Before I get into the character, it’s getting harder to differentiate some of Neeson’s characters… especially when some have the same initials. This film he’s Bill Marks, and in “Taken” he’s Bryan Mills. I’m bound to mix those up sooner than later. Anyway, Marks is motivated to protect the people of the plane because it’s his job, and he’s motivated to catch the suspect to clear his name. (Don’t have a cow, I don’t consider a major spoiler since it’s exposed in the film’s trailer.)  A short list of suspects become apparent when they look for any plane patrons using their cell phones on the plane’s monitors.

I won’t say who the suspects are narrowed down to, because that’ll just be boring; but they’re mostly just generic stereotypes representing a lot of cultural make-up, but you know the filmmakers aren’t going to make the Middle Eastern the perpetrator in a terrorism film. Because that might just cause an uproar. (Is that racist to assume that?) This is a terrorism film that is able to bend in suspsense in such a taut environment, something directors like Wes Craven are capable of, shown in 2005’s half-political thriller “Red Eye”.

The film’s actually pretty fresh, too. It’s not “Snakes on a Plane” fun, because Neeson repeatedly telling people to sit down and shut the front door becomes irrating after awhile. Something else that doesn’t help is that the action takes about 25 minutes to get into; and while there’s decent suspense welded in, the action isn’t non-stop. It comes and goes, but what a deceiving title. The only thing that doesn’t stop is the plane. Part of the problem with the action is the taut setting, it’s not a lot of room for the stars to beat the crap out of each other or anything like that; or shoot off a gun, since they’re in a plane. The cinematography is decent, there’s a sequence in the beginning where the world is seen through a “drunken vision” that isn’t that great. Everyone’s focused but the background is blurry. Wouldn’t alcoholics develop a tolerance to alcohol after awhile and it’d become harder and harder to get hammered?

The supporting cast is filled by Julianne Moore, who brings a good performance to the film; and damn, she is looking great for someone who’s fifty-three years old. Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) is in the background in her second movie role, as a stewardess. Scoot McNairy’s featured, too, and I think he’s just a great supporting presence.

A star of the film is the great sound editing, and awesome sound effects; especially when turbulence is present. The flick’s weak spot might just be the lackluster reveal of the perpetrator’s motivations. Just didn’t do it for me. And for a mystery, there are a few too many “Why did that happen…?” and “How does that make sense…?” situations throughout. This also has probably the most awkward exchange of dialogue as the final lines so far this year. All in all, it’s a decent watch and it keeps you guessing throughout. That’s the intention of a mystery – and this is a capable one.

Score70/100

3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to killReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: McG. Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard. Runtime: 113 min.

French writer and producer (sometimes director) Luc Besson is back at it again writing the story and co-writing the screenplay (with Adi Hasak) for “3 Days to Kill.” Music video director turned filmmaker McG takes over directing duties; tackling a bunch of genres in once that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s part-actioner, part-drama, and part-comedy – and wow, that’s just too many genres at once for some directors. McG produces some great TV shows (“Supernatural,” “Nikita”) but the films he’s directed are usually only okay for me (I’ve only seen three of his – the two “Charlie’s Angels” flicks and “This Means War”); and his newest movie is fun and good for what it is: a generic actioner.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a dying Secret Service agent who’s given three to six months to live because of a disease that starts out with a bad cough. When he learns of his fate, he decides to reconnect his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). When he goes to Paris to visit them, he has to promise his wife that he’s done working for the Secret Service. He promises, but just his luck – a CIA operative named Vivi (Amber Heard) tasks him with taking down a notorious criminal called the Wolf (sadly, not the Wolf of Wall Street). He’s only given three days to take down the criminal for some reason that doesn’t get explained that well. My suspicion is that they just needed a title. If you blink at the beginning when they explain the criminal’s crimes, you’ll forget why he’s being hunted. If Ethan is able to kill Wolf within three days, he’s given the chance to receive an experimental drug that could save his life. On top of that, he’s trying to reconnect with his daughter. Since he didn’t call before going to visit them, the wife is going away for business. He has to act as a babysitter for the time being.

Film Review 3 Days To KillAs you can tell, it’s a lot for McG to juggle. With this film, I think he expresses that he is perfectly competent to direct actioners, some big laughs and even some decent drama – but put it all in a blender and shove it into one film, it ends up being a decently fun, but tonally uneven actioner. There’s enough action to entertain fans of Besson’s work, and it’s at least better than “Taken 2.” It’s going to entertain action fans outside of his fanbase, too; and we should all just be thankful that he resists the urge to put Zoey into mortal danger and get kidnapped. The action is a bit generic, but I’ll admit, I say that about a lot of action movies! It’s just difficult for an action film to be not generic these days, because components of this plot feels like it’s been done in “Crank.” The editing is dizzying and too quick during some of the action scenes, but otherwise decent in the dramatic sequences. When Ethan is dizzy because of his disease, the cinematography is shaky and has that drug-induced haze about it (if you know what I mean) – so that’s fine because that’s the point. These temporary dazes happen at climactic times all too convenient for the villains.

The reason why this is tonally uneven is because it goes from one scene where he is in his bathroom using the PG-13 version of torture (ripping tape from a man’s armpit, ouch!) on a suspect that could lead him to the Wolf, and he’s called to visit his daughter’s school because she got in a fight.There are a lot of scenes like that, where you can tell an action scene is on the way by the score; but it gets interrupted by a call from the daughter. Is the film trying to express that children are annoying little shits, and that parenting is difficult? It seems like it. Regardless of the tonal shifts, I think this is a fun movie with some good laughs. Costner and Steinfeld share a few good scenes that show the struggles of reconnecting, and when there’s sweetness – it’s much more pleasant than the daughter being sour towards her father. The two stars share a great chemistry, and they elevate their respective characters to a finer level. Costner’s chemistry with Connie Nielson is just fine; there’s a much bigger focus on the father-daughter relationship. The film expresses how much of an impact being in the Secret Service can have on one’s relationships; because one has to put their needs in front of their own by keeping them out of danger. More on Costner: It’s nice that he’s staying busy in action movies, already being in two in 2014 thus far. This one as the secret agent doing the killings; the first one, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as the recruiter/mentor – giving people the intelligence to do their jobs well.

3 DaysAmber Heard takes on that role here, always sporting a different hairstyle in each scene. Either she was going through from serious identity issues herself while filming, or she’s just trying to stay way undercover. She gives off a dark and mysterious vibe, where many won’t be able to tell if she’s a protagonist or an antagonist throughout. She’s decent, but she’s probably present for the sex appeal. She gives Ethan his orders, but the fact why he must kill this guy within three days is so bloody forgettable, that it just squanders some have high-stakes intensity it might have had.

Heard’s character shows up at random times to check in, but there’s a lot of other random crap going on in this flick. Ethan has an obsession with this purple bike he intended to give to Zoey as a present, where McG feels the need to present a montage of Ethan riding it home. One other main, and random sub-plot concerns a family of squatters in Ethan’s apartment. They’ve made themselves comfortable, and it seems that they’ve been occupying his apartment for a few months, probably more. Ethan’s relationship with the squatters might be to portray his humanity – but his love for his wife and daughter does that enough; so it’s rather redundant. I learn that squatting is an issue in Paris, so it is an accurate portrayal – but with the already crowded plot, Luc Besson’s socio-economical comment (making more people aware of it) in the film is another thing that feels out of place.

Score58/100

Taken – A great action experience.

Taken

Release Date: January 30, 2009

Director: Pierre Morel

Stars: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let my daughter go, I will find you and I will kill you.”

It’s a great concept that sometimes doesn’t execute itself all that well, but is nonetheless bullets of fun.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA agent who is trying to strike up a relationship with his now seventeen year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). She soon takes a trip to Paris, and finds herself kidnapped for the purpose of human trafficking. The ring is ran by a gang of Albanians who hook the female tourists on drugs and then prostitute them as an organized business. Mills then travels to Paris in an attempt to find his daughter and bring her back to the U.S. before his appointed window of 96 hours runs out. He must do this, no matter the cost – even if the streets run with blood and nothing but havoc is raised for the French police and former colleagues.

Taken offers a fine experience, that sometimes drags on, but is an overall great concept that is nothing but fun. There’s hardly a message wrapped up in here, just good old fashioned badass-ness. I guess if there was a message to take from this, it would be ‘do anything for your family, no matter the cost’.

One thing I didn’t like about the film was why he was trying to strike up a relationship with his daughter at this point in her life. I mean, she’s seventeen and she’d rather be off with her friends doing teenage and irresponsible activities. Also, Maggie Grace was like what, twenty-six when she played this seventeen year-old? That’s just a little ridiculous, could the studio not find a better actress to do the part? I won’t complain too much though, she performs fairly well – I like her.

The phone monologue is pretty awesome, and is definitely the best part of the film – that you can see in the trailer. It doesn’t run on too long, but some scenes are a little draining. The body count in this movie is crazy. The car chases are pretty memorable, but a lot of the kills aren’t anything that special.

Liam Neeson’s character is pretty sweet, but his ex-wife was hardly likable at all. Who likes a complaining old broad? It’s a great thing that she’s a minor character. One should understand my lack of excitement for her being a larger character in the sequel to this.

Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, Katie Cassidy, Holly Valance and Xander Berkeley headline this action delight.

While Taken is a great concept with some poor pacing, it isn’t shy of being an action great. It does offer some memorable sequences, but the average ones are also, unfortunately, high in numbers. This movie is a self-aware action delight that satisfies on many levels.

75/100

– Daniel Prinn