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‘Rambo III’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 27, 1988

Once again, John Rambo guns amok in the name of American democracy, but he packs less dramatic firepower than last time. "Rambo III," a poorly paced, much less involving show of guns and machismo, makes you miss "Rambo II" (okay, "Rambo: First Blood Part II").

Special Forces vet Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is cooling out in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand (possibly hiding from Brigitte Nielsen). Content with helping monks fix their pagodas (and fund-raising for the temple by stickfighting Asian toughs for money), he's getting dis spiritual peace, ya know.

So when Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) his perennial recruiter, asks him to help out the Afghan Mujaheddin, Rambo refuses. But when Trautman gets captured there by the Soviets -- and since "Rambo's" producers are paying Stallone $20 million -- he heads for Afghanistan, as filmed in Israel.

Trautman's being held in a Soviet prison camp, run by Col. Zaysen (French actor Marc de Jonge), a thick-accented regional commander, who must have seen too many James Bond films and likes firebombing villages filled with women and children. Rambo must use guns, detonators, state-of-the-art helicopters, his slice-and-dice knife and those bomb-tipped bows and arrows to spring his buddy. Because the movie's "dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan," his mission also includes getting to Love-Dee-Peeple. Thus, we hear talk from an Afghan rebel about The Eternal Struggle, and Rambo plays something like horse polo -- a sheep's carcass substituting for the ball -- with the local, friendly freedom fighters.

Along the meandering way, the filmmakers invoke a little "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Man Who Would Be King" and "The Living Daylights" -- films that have all visited this rocky terrain before. And when our laconic palooka gets followed by Hamid, an adoring Afghan kid who gee-whizzes behind Rambo all the way to the prison camp, you begin to wonder if Steven Spielberg didn't drop in on the concept lunch.

The finale involves industrial-strength gunfighting in an underground cavern, then a finale in the desert against tanks, armored cars and special-force Soviet soldiers. But all this weaponry doesn't pack enough punch. Stallone scripts the wall-to-wall explosions too haphazardly and unimaginatively, the only exception being Rambo's killing of a Soviet goon by hanging and detonation.

"I hate to admit it," Trautman tells Rambo at one point. "But I think we're getting a little soft."

"Maybe just a little," says Rambo.

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