Rocky IV

Blu-Ray Review: Lock Up (1989)

Sylvester Stallone’s career was on a high around the time Lock Up, one of his lesser known pictures, came to bear at the tail end of the 1980’s.

The same year as the popular Tango & Cash, three years after the towering success of the unforgettable Rocky IV, and a year after the guns blazing bravado of Rambo III, Lock Up sees Stallone riding his natural charisma and innate mix of machismo and vulnerability to diminishing returns. A direct attempt to challenge himself beyond the two major franchises which have marked his career, Lock Up suffers from simply being quite bland, rote, underwritten and stocked with cliches. Stallone’s spiritual successor a quarter of a century later, Escape Plan, at least has the virtue of being absurd. Lock Up seems to want you to believe it’s all quite plausible.

In truth, it’s about as high concept as films like this come. Stallone’s mechanic, Frank Leone, is a good guy who just happens to be in jail, serving his time as he awaits release and a life with his girlfriend, only to become the victim of the sadistic, vengeful Warden Drumgoole, of the infamous Gateway prison – a maximum security prison where the lowest of the low are sent to rot in hellish conditions. Can Frank find strength in adversity and gain the respect of his fellow prisoners? Can he expose Drumgoole’s cruelty and corruption before he ends up dead? Can he be reunited with the woman he loves?

It’s a Stallone movie. Of course he can. It’s just that this time, the journey along the way isn’t nearly as thrilling, charming or action packed as usual.

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD – a violent, hope-free reflection of a vengeful America

Last Blood, ostensibly the final chapter of the Rambo saga, serves as a fitting portrait of America’s dark, lumbering national psyche.

In a film which starts predictable and just keeps getting more so, Last Blood gives us a growling, jaded old warrior in John Rambo. Having survived Vietnam (twice), Afghanistan and Burma’s killing fields, this veteran now fights entirely on home turf for the first time since the franchise began. Rambo ranches cattle, looks after his adopted Mexican immigrant family, and for fun appears to build an entire underground lair filled with weapons beneath his traditional American prairie homestead. This isn’t even a Rambo planning for the apocalypse. This is a Rambo living his *own* eternal apocalypse, trapped somewhere between a grizzled Rooster Cogburn and damaged Captain Willard, living only in the reveries of his tortured past and the hope of a young girl in which he sees a future. Which naturally gets snatched away, as it wouldn’t be a Rambo film if Stallone’s hero didn’t traverse a river of pain to attain some inner peace.

Last Blood, however, maybe unknowingly, doesn’t seem to know if Rambo is a hero at all anymore. As an audience we may appreciate Sly’s innate, snarling Italian-American nobility—in the same manner we consider his Austrian compatriot Arnold Schwarzenegger—but Adrian Grunberg’s film is at pains to remind us this guy isn’t Rocky Balboa. Rambo is psychologically haunted by Vietnam, even all these years later, literally replaying events from First Blood and the conflict in his mind. When Gabriela (Yvette Monreal), his naive ‘ward’, ends up the victim of lawless Mexican organised crime gangsters, Rambo unleashes one-man savagery on anyone even tangentially connected to them. He admits he just wants revenge, pure and simple. He is past healing. He will live in his anger for the rest of his days.

Rambo feels like the haunted reflection of a growling, aged, vicious and vengeful America at the end of a long road. It’s dreams and hopes are dead. Now all that’s left is monstrous.