I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such absurd movies back to back. I was morbidly curious about both features for very different reasons. “Rambo” is one of those franchises that gets resuscitated once a decade—a relic from a bygone action era that usually delivers some brutal action and half-baked ideas. “Between Two Ferns” is a popular internet show that typically delivers awkward laughs for the fully baked and that, for some reason, has made the leap from computer screen to the slightly larger screen of a Netflix-compatible television. Both of these movies are completely insane, and I’m still trying to work out if that’s a good thing.
“Rambo: Last Blood” is a mind-blowing piece of action cinema that, like its star Sylvester Stallone, feels like it’s from a completely different era: one in which indiscriminately murdering droves of minorities was perfectly acceptable. The series hasn’t aged particularly well. The original 1982 movie is still an absolute classic, but each sequel has produced diminishing returns. Everything about the series feels totally antiquated, and the movie’s failure to match the far superior “First Blood,” thus providing a satisfying bookend, feels like a missed opportunity.
“First Blood” introduced the hero, John Rambo (Stallone), as a homeless Vietnam Vet who is harassed by a redneck sheriff. This triggers Rambo’s PTSD and turns him into a brutal, law-enforcement maiming machine. It was about a man who had been thrown away by society after serving his country—an unwanted byproduct of American imperialism who struggled to find acceptance. This final installment finds a now-retired Rambo living in the border region near Mexico. Will the filmmakers have Rambo help save Mexican immigrants struggling to find acceptance in modern society, thus continuing the first film’s themes?
Hell no. Instead, they fill the movie with Mexican cartel stereotypes, providing Rambo with a disposable army of Hispanics to brutally murder (and he dispatches every single one with extreme prejudice). There are some fun action sequences in “Last Blood,” but the movie feels so insanely out of touch with anything happening in the world. Mind you, not every movie has to tap into the zeitgeist. However, “First Blood” established Rambo’s story as a deeper examination of the brutal nature of humanity. “Last Blood,” by comparison, has no levels. It’s a brutal, dumb action movie—not terrible, but nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s a film for people who found “Taken” too cerebral.
“Between Two Ferns” also feels like something we’ve seen before. Especially for those of us who have been fans of Zack Galifianakis’ crazy, cringe-inducing berating of celebrities and awkward delivery. The fact that there’s a movie based on a 10-minute internet talk show is creatively … interesting.
We’re introduced to Galifianakis as the host of a public access talk show in southeastern North Carolina that manages to attract all sorts of popular, A-List celebrities. His boss, Will Ferrell (playing an amped up version of himself), is a crazy, cocaine and click-addicted CEO who needs Zack to get him 10 more episodes. If he can deliver, Zack will achieve his dream of having his own professional late-night talk show. Galifianakis gathers his rag-tag crew of public access nerds and hits the road, where he interviews a variety of big-name celebrities.
It’s always weird watching short-form comedy adapted for film. “Between Two Ferns” is basically a bit stretched out into a movie, akin to features made out of “Saturday Night Live” sketches. The quality of the film depends on the ability of the characters and premise to support a longer run time. This one slightly misses the mark, mostly because there are precious few moments that are as good as the actual interviews. In fact, the outtakes during the credits are the best seven minutes of the entire film. Watching Galifianakis try to hold his shit together while A-List celebrities burst into laughter is so infectious, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
I suppose the takeaway from these two creative endeavors is that sometimes you can find moments of enjoyment from complete absurdity. “Last Blood” somehow manages to generate as many awkward winces as “Between Two Ferns,” which devotes itself entirely to the pursuit of comedic cringe. I suggest skipping the former and watching the latter, unless you really want to watch a septuagenarian steroid abuser brutally murder people. If that’s something you’re actively seeking out, maybe it’s time to change your medication.