Does 'Rambo' trailer tip hand or shoot foot?
EmptyJohn Rambo may have finally met his match.
It's not the Burmese soldiers he tangles with in the upcoming fourth installment of Sylvester Stallone's blood-drenched film franchise (not to be confused with his other blood-drenched franchise, "Rocky"). Nor is it the Vietnamese and Soviet antagonists that Rambo massacred before them.
The enemy that could end up rocking Rambo is hiding in the dense brush of the Internet, sniping at a 3 1/2-minute unofficial trailer of "John Rambo" first released last week to online film-fan hub Ain't It Cool News. Although it might be another year before Nu Image/Millennium Films releases "Rambo" in theaters, the film is already shaping up as an interesting test case in the nascent art of viral marketing.
After just three days on YouTube, the "Rambo" sneak peek, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx6i090FGzQ, has emerged as one of the biggest attractions on the site; two different clips have racked up more than 400,000 views each. That's impressive given the franchise has been in deep freeze for nearly two decades.
But one look at this preview is all you need to understand its appeal. A carefully crafted crescendo of ultraviolence, the clip culminates in a phantasmagoria of carnage the action genre hasn't served up in decades. The final 1:30 features Stallone decapitating a soldier and firing a machine gun into another at close range, reducing him to a puddle of blood. There's also some exquisite carving skills on display as he disembowels one poor sap and performs on another combatant an unwanted tracheotomy.
But if that action seems savage, that's nothing compared to some of the reactions "Rambo" is getting online. Since photos from the set first began leaking to fan sites in March, ridicule has been heaped on everything from the very notion of a 60-year-old actor stepping back into the role ("He looks like an aging drag queen," reads one dig on Digg.com) to the not-quite-Oscar-level dramaturgy ("It's 'Hot Shots' without Charlie Sheen," quips a YouTube wag).
"Rambo" also is getting its fair share of online acclaim, but that might be even more worrisome. Most of the posts heralding the franchise's return are sheer expressions of bloodlust. Heartwarming as it is to see a new generation of filmgoers thrill to a level of gore that hasn't existed outside the horror genre for some time, the strategy could back the film's producers into a corner.
Setting expectations for "Rambo" with an entrails-filled trailer could prove problematic if Stallone and company don't deliver a final cut that maintains the violence quotient, notes Eric Lichtenfeld, author of "Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie," which recently was published in a revised and expanded edition by Wesleyan University Press.
"If they end up cutting back on the violence, what will the reaction be?" Lichtenfeld says. "There could be an interesting backlash."
"Rambo" could end up facing the same problem another upcoming action revival encountered recently. Fans of the "Die Hard" franchise reacted negatively when the fourth installment, "Live Free or Die Hard," secured a PG-13 rating instead of the R that helped the first one become a hit. But with studios intent on attracting broad audiences, Lichtenfeld doubts "Rambo" can avoid being neutered, too.
"I think it's possible Stallone wants to see what kind of reaction the gore is going to get," says Lichtenfeld, who believes an unrated DVD version could be an option.
It remains to be seen whether "Rambo" can demonstrate enough of a groundswell to justify the risk of an R rating. That may be the rationale for leaking the footage now given that "Rambo" also is getting its first looks at the film market in Cannes.
This online experiment might pave the way for a return of the kind of sadistic romps "Rambo" first made popular in the 1980s. Either that or provide Stallone's finest, albeit unintentional, comedic work since "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!"