So how does a broody Vietnam vet with a long-term case of post-traumatic stress disorder keep busy in the backwaters of Thailand for 20 years between Rambo III and the sequel called just plain Rambo? Judging from the appearance of Sylvester Stallone, who co-wrote, directed, and stars in the hell-with-it-all bloody fourth run of the stomping action franchise, John James Rambo at 61 has kept fit via a regular regimen of wrangling poisonous snakes, running a longboat, and keeping his head bandannas clean. Unfortunately, that quiet life is interrupted by a party of howlingly naïve Christian missionaries and medics from Colorado who request Rambo's navigational services. The do-gooders are headed upriver to assist ethnic Karen refugees in Burma (apparently no one's told Rambo that the country's called Myanmar now), underdogs who have been fighting a brutal civil war with the ruling military junta for 60 years.
The fools have chosen a profoundly dangerous route, of course, as befits any war pic involving the word ''upriver.'' It's a given that Rambo will initially say no, followed by grrr. Also a given is the capture of the hapless missionaries, the arrival of a search party of colorful mercenaries, and Rambo's mournful decision to blow all of Burma to hell to rescue the hopeless lot of them mercenaries and missionaries alike. Baby-stabbing, decapitation, gang rape, and rivers of blood: Rambo is up to its boot tops in numbing violence.
The brutality, tough enough to take, would be intolerable if Stallone didn't toss the movie like a cant-clearing grenade at notions of stay-the-course righteousness (not to mention at the sermonizing of more faith-based agonies staged by Mel Gibson). Rambo teaches that fighting sucks, good intentions can be futile, and coalitions of the willing are a charade: A man's got to do what a man's got to do. Sometimes that means tying on the old bandanna to hack one's way out of the Hollywood jungle so disorienting to aging action stars. B-
Want more? See EW.com's photo gallery of Sylvester Stallone's most memorable roles