By Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
Son of Rambow opens and closes at a movie theater, and its story centers on two young boys making a sequel to First Blood.
The film is filled with scenes about scrappy, cut-and-paste filmmaking, and the movie-within-a-movie that drives the plot also ends up as the centerpiece of the hugely affecting final scenes.
But to interpret Son of Rambow as an ode to the power of cinema is to misread the film. Movies certainly stir the creativity of its two central protagonists: The meek Will (Bill Milner), who is being raised by his widowed mother in a strict Amish-like sect in rural England in the early 1980s where he is forbidden from even watching TV; and the rebellious Lee (Will Poulter), who bullies other kids in school the way his older brother and guardian bullies him.
It is Lee who introduces Will to the magic of Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo via a bootleg videotape, and the two boys become collaborators on an unofficial sequel. Lee directs while Will, as Rambo’s son, performs stunts in the countryside that repeatedly come close to killing him.
Writer-director Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has as much fun showing us the fruits of the pint-size Spielbergs, who are planning to enter their film into a national competition, as he does mining the ’80s milieu for comic nostalgia: Oversized cellphones, Pop Rocks candy and ridiculous hairstyles parade across the screen without a trace of parody, but their appearance is funny regardless, especially within the context of the film’s vaguely askew universe.
For all its pop-culture references, however, Son of Rambow isn’t about the power of movies to transform lives — even the lives of affected, oddball French exchange students such as Didier (Jules Sitruk), who is horribly bored by his British classmates until he catches a glimpse of the boys’ movie camera and anoints himself a natural-born actor.
It is really what Will and Lee are lacking — the support of family, an outlet for their imagination and an audience willing to appreciate it — that form Son of Rambow‘s real focus. With apologies to Mr. Stallone, no one would ever argue First Blood was an essential part of any healthy childhood. But the ability to make-believe certainly is.
Cast: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon, Jules Sitruk, Ed Westwick.
Writer-Director: Garth Jennings.
Producer: Nick Goldsmith.
A Paramount Vantage release. Running time: 96 minutes. Brief vulgar language, mock violence. In Miami-Dade: AMC Aventura; in Palm Beach: Palace.