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The fifth and perhaps final adventure of John Rambo finds the Vietnam vet having settled on the family ranch in Arizona, living out his retirement while managing his internal demons…at least until the college-bound daughter of a family friend decides to go to Mexico. Hoping to reconcile with her destitute father, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal) instead becomes the victim of a date-rape drug and is subsequently bound for a life in sex trafficking – all in one night! And that, of course, doesn’t sit well with Sylvester Stallone’s hero, especially once he stops taking his meds.
Stallone and Matt Cirulnick’s script for “Last Blood” actually starts off well, believably establishing the relationship between Rambo and Gabrielle, and Sly’s grizzled delivery comes off as a convincing extension of the same character he essayed in Ted Kotcheff’s original 1982 “First Blood.” Yet once the second half of the film kicks into gear, “Last Blood” loses its momentum and never recovers. The pacing turns completely awkward – second-billed lead Paz Vega’s character has no pay off whatsoever – while the picture commits a major narrative blunder that takes whatever emotional investment one might have in the story and chucks it out the window.
Stallone’s 2008 “Rambo” was a potent piece of action filmmaking that was understandably separated in tone and tenor from the ‘80s blockbusters that preceded it – yet still felt connected thematically with Rambo finding a “cause to fight for.” This lower-budgeted new entry, directed by Mel Gibson protégé Adrian Grunberg, offers even less of the same cinematic DNA, especially since Rambo suffers a major defeat in his quest, turning the pre-ordained bloody climax into less a piece of rousing violent triumph (like its predecessors) and more a rote rerun of “Death Wish.” Rambo runs around the underground tunnels beneath his ranch and takes out one generic Mexican cartel smuggler after another, but none of it offers any suspense or release since Rambo’s not fighting for anything other than serving the audience with a succession of ridiculously gory kills.
Grunberg’s direction, meanwhile, lacks the raw visceral intensity Stallone brought to the last “Rambo” outing, with his strongest cinematic trick reserved for passing-off Portugal and Bulgaria as Arizona and Mexico! Ultimately, though, Stallone’s prior entry should’ve been Rambo’s swan song – the iconic action hero was deserving of more than the limp cinematic rubble he’s finally reduced to here. (**, 89 mins., R; Lionsgate)