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FIRST BLOOD

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 7, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘First Blood’ was a surprise hit 37 years ago, a ‘sleeper,’ in Hollywood parlance, meaning that it unexpectedly pulled ahead of the pack for a long and lucrative theatrical run — during the fall, the serious, Oscar-consideration season, no less. Now, each of the first three ‘Rambo’ movies has earned a 4K release from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, so here’s my review of the first film in the franchise, originally published in the Deseret News on Oct. 27, 1982.

“First Blood” appears to be Sylvester Stallone’s plunge into a new genre, the bigger-than-life action-adventure with a hero that is tight-lipped and indestructible.

It’s a good try, and Stallone the actor is more than capable. His performance, combined with some fabulous location photography in British Columbia and a few memorable high-pitched action sequences, make this picture occasionally exciting and even breathless — but when the smoke clears, which unfortunately happens before the movie is over, it’s obvious that this is a rather mindless exercise in violence.

Stallone co-wrote the script, and no doubt wants to see this picture finally put him over as a success in an area other than the “Rocky” series. It may happen, but moviegoers will have to turn off their brains and ignore an awful lot of plot holes.

The film begins with Vietnam veteran Stallone walking through an unidentified small mountain town after discovering that his only surviving war buddy has died of cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange in Nam. He’s on the edge and all it takes is for the small-town sheriff to push him a little too hard, and he’s over.

     

Sylvester Stallone, left, Brian Dennehy, 'First Blood'

The sheriff (Brian Dennehy, who was the father in “Split Image”) tells longhaired Stallone that his “kind” isn’t wanted around there. He drives Stallone to the outskirts of town, but when our hero refuses to leave, he’s thrown into jail. There, a sadistic deputy humiliates and tortures him, and Stallone finally cracks. He escapes and heads for the woods, where he puts to good use his guerilla warfare training as he’s tracked down by locals.

From there on it’s a mini-war — Stallone against the town that done him wrong. And despite some rather ridiculous turns in the jail (the deputies decide to shave him and clean him up with a straight razor and a fire hose), it’s an exciting beginning that promises more than it delivers.

As Stallone surprises his attackers one by one it begins to look more than a little like “Southern Comfort,” but then Stallone’s old Vietnam commander, Richard Crenna, drops in to inform the cops that only he can stop Stallone — and eventually Stallone comes down out of the woods to literally destroy the town with his bare hands.

     

One of the major problems with this picture is that Dennehy isn’t nasty enough to swing our sympathies 100 percent into Stallone’s corner. Oh, sure, he has some mighty mean deputies and some of them are rather trigger-happy and the National Guardsmen are idiots, but Dennehy himself comes off as rather sympathetic.

If he, and the other townsfolk, were painted as out-and-out bad guys, it would be a different story — but I began to feel sorry for the guy whose gas station was blown up and the motorcyclist who was clobbered and the innocent young deputy who spoke out against the cruelty of some of his colleagues. (This is an all-male cast, by the way.)

But Stallone … er, Rambo …. is indeed a bigger-than-life hero, more than capable in his string of action scenes and silent to a fault (he hardly puts two words together until his final speech, a ridiculous plea that would have made John Wayne proud). If this had made more sense it would have been an infinitely better film.

Rated R for violence and profanity, “First Blood” will satisfy the Charles Bronson-Clint Eastwood blood ’n’ guts crowd but when it’s over you may wonder why you bothered.