The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Rambo III’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Rambo III.”

The info:

The Movie: “Rambo III ”

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Marc de Jonge  

Director: Peter MacDonald

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Rambo mounts a one-man mission to rescue his friend Colonel Trautman from the clutches of the formidable invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39 percent

Our take:

Froemming: All right! Time to ring in the new year here at the JOE-DOWN! How? Why, with America’s one man army in Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo, a Vietnam vet who took on the Russians, the VC and a small group of cops in Washington who wouldn’t let him eat in a local restaurant because he looked like a bum.

And in the third film, our anti-hero takes on the Red Menace once again by teaming up with *puts on glasses, reads notes* the Mujahideen in Afghanistan…

While I grab my detonators, bombs and glow sticks, Brown why don’t you tell us your initial thoughts on Stallone’s other iconic franchise.

Brown: First, after a month of podcasts, I feel like we need to welcome our readers back to our long-winded reviews.

Now, this is the Sly staple that I’m not as familiar with. I know the first “Rambo” movie pretty well. The rest of them all kind of bleed together for me, much like how all the corpses John Rambo piles up all bleed together.

Honestly, the closest thing that really affected me from the franchise is its influence on video games, namely the “Contra” games from when I was a kid. I may have tied a bandana around my head, took up my shirt and run around the house with a toy gun making “pew-pew” sounds like I was an action hero.

Oh, and while I never saw “Rambo 3,” I do own a DVD of a movie that parodied it: “Hot Shots: Part Deux.”

In this review, I may go full on conspiracy theory, but I’ll save that for later. In the meantime, get us started, Froemming.

Froemming: After the last movie, where Rambo single handedly won the Vietnam War a decade after it ended, we find our hero in Thailand, where he lives in a monastery and partakes in the Kumite from “Bloodsport” on the side.

We see that Col. Samuel Trautman — the man who randomly shows up in “First Blood” to smugly warn Brian Dennehy that the man he is hassling is basically a government-created killing machine and who randomly shows up in “First Blood: II” to recruit Rambo into some cockamamie scheme to return to the source of his PTSD in Vietnam — randomly shows up with Red Forman from “That 70’s Show” to recruit Rambo into some cockamamie scheme in helping the resistance in Afghanistan fight off the Russians. That resistance being the Mujahideen, which would splinter and a faction would go on to become the Taliban and al Qaeda and whatnot.

The long, disturbing history of these terrorists is too much to get into here. Let’s just say that some people may not have been happy about Rambo’s helping them in the 80s after Sept. 11, 2001.

Brown: A lot to unpack there. I’ll rewind a second.

When Trautman and Red Forman are looking for Rambo in Thailand, they keep showing his picture to the locals and all I can think of is they’re the T-1000 searching for their John Conner.

And Rambo, naturally, is jacked to the gills that it helps my theory that Sylvester Stallone took roles only because it would keep him insanely muscular.

The kumite, it’s pretty entertaining. No screaming into the void like JCVD, but it’s a pretty elaborate battle. Although I question how a room full of people think it’s a good idea to be inches away from burly fighters just swinging sticks wildly at each other. I assume their blood lust blinded them. Or, a whack from one of those sticks blinded them.

Final point: As soon as I saw Kurtwood Smith (Red Forman) in this, I immediately got excited because I hoped it was actually Clarence Boddicker recruiting Rambo to take out this troublesome RoboCop at his home in Detroit.

Alas, I’ll have to save that for my fan fiction.

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Froemming: Fun fact: I began thinking that Kurtwood Smith has always looked like he was 50, so I did a Google image search and could not find a single photo of him as a young man.

He’s like Benjamin Button, only he just stopped at middle age.

Brown: OR!!! He’s a highlander!

Froemming: 

So, Rambo beats the bejesus out of this guy during the kumite, but lets him live and gets on a slow boat to his home, which is some monk monastery where I imagine in a few years Liu Kang will return to get amped for his upcoming Mortal Kombat while dealing with a white-washed Raiden (whom is a Highlander!).

Trautman and Red, who looks so annoyed walking up the giant steps to the monastery that he probably want to put a foot in Trautman’s ass, find Rambo smashing aluminum siding on this holy palace.

He is literally just smashing metal with a hammer. This is what we call in the business as “busy work” for those who are not skilled enough to do the actual job.

Brown: The two are there to ask Rambo to help supply rebels in Afghanistan. And the whole time, Trautman is essentially trying to peer pressure Rambo into doing this mission, telling him that Rambo needs to embrace being a one-man war machine.

Wait, wasn’t this the guy who was trying to get John Rambo to stand down in “First Blood” and get him to realize the war’s over? Now, Rambo is living a peaceful (save for the kumites) life in Thailand and he’s all, “Hey dude, you gotta kill for me again.”

Trautman, you’re a piece of (REDACTED). Leave your friend alone. His war is over.

Froemming: That is pretty much my beef with the Rambo sequels. “First Blood” was about a man dealing with the complex horrors of PTSD and life in an America where the government and people treat him like trash. It’s a fantastic movie I watched for the first time last month when I bought the four-disc Rambo collection.

I should have stopped after that one.

But the sequels? If the first movie was “your war is over, man” then the next three are “your war is over, man, if you are a WIMP!”

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Brown: Between this movie and “Rocky 4,” Sly was pretty hell-bent on being the man to single-handedly end the Cold War, wasn’t he?

Froemming: All I know is I miss the days when Republicans hated Russia.

Rambo is at peace and doesn’t take Trautman’s bait, and Red has an off-hand comment about those stairs, so you know he’s gonna yell at this dumbass for wasting his time.

We then see Trautman goes it alone with some special forces in Afghanistan, but the dumbass gets captured, leaving Red to find Rambo once again to put a foot in his ass to fight the Red Menace. Also, Red is wearing THE SAME SUIT as before here, telling me those in high level government only own one business suit.

I like to think of this movie as the unofficial sequel to “That 70s Show.” Eric has moved out, Hyde is in prison for narcotics, Fez probably in jail too for sexual misconduct and Kelso is president of the U.S.A.

Red went back to what he loves most: Proxy wars with the U.S.S.R.

Brown: With his “friend” in Soviet hands, Rambo decides to end his peaceful life and coat Afghanistan in communist blood in a mission that will be disavowed if he’s caught or killed.

Rambo heads to Pakistan where he runs into a man who legit has a Borat accent, which took me out of the movie. This man flips on Rambo. You know, flipping almost ought to be illegal.

Froemming: Exhibit A in why we probably should not have trusted the Mujahideen. This man was the Michael Cohen to Rambo’s Trump.

Anyway, Rambo wants to sneak into the base to save his toxic “friend” from the Soviets. He needs supplies: Bombs, detonators, exploding arrows, guns, glow sticks, knives, grena…

Wait, glow sticks? Is he going to a rave after this?  

Brown: That drove me insane for a while. A Rambo movie has Chekov’s glow sticks. His reason for having them: They’re blue?

Froemming: At this moment, maybe he was suffering from CTE from all the war and whatnot? He likes glowing things because his brain is melting into jelly? I dunno.

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Brown: The gun runner, Ghani (not our flipper), takes Rambo to the border town of Khost where he meets with the Mujahideen and tries to get help from these rebels.

Ghani keeps making comments about how dumb Rambo is about doing this mission solo, and he’s not wrong. But he keeps thinking Rambo isn’t a fighter. Dude, a guy with that much of a thousand-yard stare clearly has seen some (REDACTED). One look at the guy and I immediately know “Oh (REDACTED), he clearly wiped out an entire small-town police station in the Pacific Northwest.”

Also, for the video game nerds out there, when they ride horseback into Afghanistan, I got “Metal Gear Solid V” flashbacks.

Froemming: While this is all going on, we meet our bad guy in Colonel Alexei Zaysen, a Russian soldier who doesn’t know the word “quit.” Which, given that this was Russia’s Vietnam, makes sense.

Zaysen tortures Trautman, wanting to know where the stinger missiles that the U.S. is supplying the Mujahideen. I will say old Trautman can take a beating, but if you want me to take an antagonist seriously, he better not look like a claims adjuster in some corporate office like Zaysen does.

Then Zaysen finds out a “John Rambo” is on his way, and we get the same speech Trautman has given in the previous movies about how unstoppable his friend is. Dude, Rambo is tough and all, but each movie his abilities expand like it is the tale of Paul Bunyan, the legend grows every year.

Brown: And Rambo’s legend grows in the eyes of the Afghans as well when he plays Buzkashi with the rebels as a way to build trust with the men.

What is Buzkashi, you ask? Why, it’s a game where players on horseback carry around an animal carcass to a goal. Hey folks, I’m not here to judge.

The thing I’ll judge in this village is the use of child soldiers. I mean, when Rambo hands one kid a knife and he’s making “Whoosh” sounds as he swings it, I think that means the kid is a little too young to be holding an AK-47.

Froemming: The NRA would disagree with you on that one.

Brown: I’m quite alright with being on the opposite end of that argument.

As the game goes on, the Soviets launch a preemptive strike on the village and gun down a lot of people.

What I don’t quite get is how helicopters sneak up on people, because it happens twice in this movie.

rambo-3-knife

Froemming: These stealthy helicopters gun folks down, and Rambo actually takes one out. Sure. That’s the magic of Hollywood.

But this bloodshed is too much for the Afghani people, and they do not want to help Rambo with his attack on a Russian military base, which makes complete sense. They would be (REDACTED) slaughtered.

But Rambo, Mousa and his homicidal boy sneak off into the dead of night to break into this base. Now, I am no military expert, but this strategy seems rather — bad. Three people against a whole Soviet base? Sure, you got Rambo all jacked up on roids and whatever the hell else Stallone was consuming then — probably cocaine — but the aid of a middle-aged man and his pre-teen son doesn’t seem like the assistance one would need to take on the Evil Empire.  

Brown: But, that’s all Rambo gets. He may as well wear a brown hat and call the kid Short Round because that’s the kind of dynamic they’re going for here.

So after crawling through a minefield, Rambo and his motley crew infiltrate the Soviet base. At one point, Ghani asks Rambo why go through all this trouble to save Trautman. His answer: “He’d do the same for me.”

Oh what, the guy who tried to pressure you into this (REDACTED) would do the same for you? No he wouldn’t. As good a soldier as you are, you’re still a pawn to him, Rambo. I can’t imagine these two getting a beer without Trautman telling him “I got one more mission for you.” As long as Trautman lives, he’ll guilt Rambo into another retirement tour of killing like he’s KISS or the Rolling Stones.

Froemming: This is the song I think of when I think of these two good-time buddies.

Brown: I imagine Zack Morris stole that song and took all the royalties for it. As has been established, Zack Morris is trash.

Rambo finds Trautman just as the Colonel is about to become roasted by a flamethrower. And I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more flamethrower in this movie. With gunfire being used to try and slow down Rambo, now the base is alerted to their presence.

In a panic, Rambo, Trautman and some other prisoners hop into a helicopter and try to escape. Trautman asks if Rambo can fly a helicopter. And I figure he learns how because his brain downloaded it from the matrix.

No, that’s not true. The copter gets beat to (REDACTED) and crashes. And everyone LIVES somehow.

Froemming: Maybe they all learned to survive such a fall from Super Dave Osborne? Also, RIP Bob Einstein.

Anyway, good thing that movies in the 1980s loved underground tunnels (including “First Blood”) because Trautman and Rambo find one to evade capture by the Soviets and have a fun adventure like they are the Goonies or something.

But instead of slick shoes to thwart the enemy, John Rambo uses the glow sticks he was saving for a rave later to distract and trick the Russians so he can brutally murder them with bombs and his blood-stained fists.

Brown: Keep in mind that when this goes on, Rambo is dealing with a torso injury after he got impaled with something during an explosion. AND, this battle is happening in an Afghan sewer.

What I’m saying is this: John Rambo is going to eventually die from a nasty infection or sepsis. At least until he (improbably) cauterizes the wound later with gun powder.

Also, was it just me, or at one point did Rambo use the child soldier as a shield? I think he was hanging onto the kid to hurry him up, but I swear it looks like he’s holding him in front to take any stray fire.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

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Froemming: Look, if it worked for Martin Sheen in “The Dead Zone” it will work for John Rambo.

Rambo slowly takes these Russians out, and sure, Trautman does save him at one point — probably as a bargaining chip for the next dumb idea he wants to use Rambo in down the road — but at this point, with zero rest, Rambo would be dead on his feet here. He’s taken out half an army on his own.

But alas, he keeps fightin’ like he’s Russell Crowe traveling around the world!

But after this, Trautman and Rambo get to the surface only to find a whole army waiting for them. They are trapped, there is no way out. And they decide to pull a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and die fighting.

Brown: The ending has everything your lizard brain wants. Soviets gunned down, a helicopter blown up with an explosive arrow. Even a burly man, whom Froemming believes is Zangief from “Street Fighter,” getting hanged AND blown up. There’s even a Soviet using night-vision, which is something I only associate with “Silence of the Lambs” and Paris Hilton’s… ahem, movie.

And what seems to be the entire Russian army standing between Rambo, Trautman and the border, Rambo finds time, despite taking a bullet to the leg, to pilot a tank!

Froemming: The Mujahideen arrive just in time to help these two out. As they attack the Russians, Rambo in his tank is now after Zaysen, who is in a helicopter. These two mashing into one another is how children play with action figures, not how one wins a war.

But win it Rambo does, because the chopper crashes into the tank, killing our Russian antagonist in the process and Rambo survives somehow? I dunno. I buy him taking out hillbilly cops in Washington, but a whole platoon or whatever or Russians only to win by exploding vehicles?

It’s cartoonishly ridiculous.

Brown: Keep in mind, Rambo’s piloting a tank that is already smoking from sustained gunfire from the Russians. I’m no battle expert, but I’ve played a lot of video games. A smoking tank means it’s seconds away from blowing up. And yet… the tank survives a head-on collision with a copter loaded with missiles?

You (REDACTED) kidding me, movie?

Froemming: Don’t sell yourself short, Brown. Your video game background would make you more than qualified to be a military expert on FOX News.

And yup, John Rambo should be dead 10 times over here, but he survives. And the Mujahideen has won an important battle against its enemy, Russia. And in more than a decade, some of these folks would conspire to attack the U.S. on its own soil.

Did…did Rambo indirectly lead us to 9/11?

Brown: I think with the ending — watching a bunch of Mujahideen die for the cause of saving a US Colonel, only for Rambo to decline helping them win this war/help train troops — it makes sense to say the Afghans would harbor some resentment. And that resentment turned to terrorism towards the west.

Brotherhood on the battlefield meant nothing to Rambo anymore because his shady-ass friend was saved, all at the cost of Afghan blood. And the man refuses to give back.

So yes, Rambo indirectly caused 9/11.

Froemming: Well, on that note, let’s drive our tanks down to recommendations!

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: Nope. Stick with “First Blood” as it is probably the best Rambo movie. “First Blood 2” is also ridiculously fun, but this was not that much fun.

Brown: Sure. It’s a decent action movie. You’ll like it if you shut off your brain. It’s nowhere near as good as “First Blood,” though.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

Shameless plug:

Froemming: Also, a shameless plug for my buddy Paul, who reads the weird news of the day each week. Sometimes, you’ll find me badgering him with “Speed 2: Cruise Control” questions in the middle of some political thought he is having in the moment. Check him out. It is called And Now Weird Stuff With This Damn Guy!

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