Men have been graced with not one but two Rambo movies this year. The simply titled Rambo bulldozed its way into theaters earlier this year, much to the delight of fans looking for some mindless, gruesome fun. It was the explosive, bloody thrill ride I wanted it to be. Jump ahead a few months and we have the second Rambo film, aptly titled Son of Rambow Unfortunately, it is not the action-packed adventure one might suspect, but a childhood film inspired by First Blood.
A British film set in the early 1980's, Son of Rambow follows a young boy named Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) who is naive to much of the modern world. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, he isn't allowed to watch TV or movies, and in fact has to leave class every time his teacher shows a video. It is on one of these occasions that he meets the manipulative hooligan Lee Carter (Will Poulter). While Lee Carter first takes advantage of Will's innocent ways, the two soon form a friendship as they set out to make an adaptation of First Blood - the first and only movie Will has ever seen. As filming continues and more and more students join in on the production, Will and Lee Carter find their relationship strained - and his family threatened with expulsion from the religious order in which he has been raised.
Having only watched blockbusters for the last month, I was looking forward to sitting down to a pleasant little British comedy. The concept sounded great; the previews were hilarious. After all, how can a comedy about two boys remaking a low budget Rambo film not be good? Unfortunately, Son of Rambow is not very good at all. As I've heard some glowing reviews about the movie, I have to assume that my perception was skewed the night before, but if that were the case, it must have really been skewed. Son of Rambow is mildly funny at best, yet utterly boring.
Son of Rambow is just over an hour and a half, yet it feels like it's three hours long. Thanks, Garth Jennings, for making a movie feel twice as long as it actually is. I hadn't been so excited to get to the end of a movie in a long time, which is pretty amazing since Son of Rambow is just the kind of film that would appeal to me on multiple levels. I wasn't the only one who was bored - a group of eight people left halfway through the picture.
I don't know exactly what went wrong here. The concept is good, as are the actors. Will Proudfoot is a bit crazy, but likable. Lee Carter is the best character, as he receives the most character development and has some interesting family dynamics to deal with. Other characters, such as the French exchange student Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk), are pretty enjoyable. On the merits of each individual scene, there is nothing particularly bad; director Jennings does a good job with each, balancing lightheartedness, drama and quirkiness pretty consistently. The actual filmmaking scenes are pretty good, especially the one where Will gets blasted off a ladder with a fire hose.
Unfortunately, the synergy of the scenes amounts to very little. Okay on their own, there is very little flow, entertainment or even cohesion to the mass plot. The movie meanders aimlessly for a long time before Will ever gets to see First Blood, and even after that point, the filmmaking scenes - again, the best parts of the movie - are so few and far between that it's impossible to become engaged in the story. Jennings attempts to relay Will's imagination to the audience through "hallucinations" of nightmare scarecrows, on-screen animations and more fall flat; such elements were done much better in The Science of Sleep. Jennings also forays into random scenes that add little value to the story, namely a dance/party sequence with the French students. There are so many "what's the point?" scenes that completely veer away from the movie that was marketed to us.
Ultimately, the problem with the Son of Rambow is that it was advertised as a funny, quirky film about two boys trying to make a Rambo movie. The filmmaking, as it turns out, is a small part of the movie, a loose glue to adhere to rather than the central focus. The result is a dull and disingenuous picture that fails to spark any kind of fire, despite the makings for one.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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