Stallone’s ‘Rambo’ is a hit

Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, escapes a Burmese patrol by strapping an antipersonnel mine to an unexploded WWII Tallboy.
Special to the Times

Sylvester Stallone may be nearing senior citizen status, but “Rambo’s” adrenaline-inducing ultra-violence has elicited raves from fans old and new. “Sly drilled us about how we saw Rambo at this point in his life,” says professional kick boxer turned stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, who runs action company 87Eleven with partner Dave Leach. “We [said] a little grittier, more realistic, less tongue-in-cheek. A little less ‘80s.”

Stahelski and Leach designed stunts to fit the 61-year-old actor-director’s physical talent -- which turned out to be considerable. “Ninety-eight percent of every ‘Rambo’ stunt is Sly,” Stahelski says. “He’s in great shape, but he knows when to step back.”

Stahelski worked with second-unit director Harvey Harrison, second-unit stunt coordinator Noon Orsatti and Stallone to escalate the “Saving Private Ryan” documentary-style action. One memorable scene involves Rambo escaping a relentless Burmese patrol using a handy unexploded World War II Tallboy bomb embedded in jungle mud. Based on training with SWAT and SEAL teams, plus the on-set expertise of Thai Special Forces, Stahelski and company had Rambo rig a Claymore antipersonnel mine to the Tallboy, which detonates when a Burmese soldier triggers the tripwire. To make the blast appear especially powerful, Stahelski and Orsatti’s team yanked the Thai stuntmen playing the Burmese out of frame on wire ratchets.

“Stallone runs from the blast toward the edge of a cliff and jumps out of frame,” Stahelski says of the scene. “We cleared the cliff base of any treacherous debris and shot him hitting the ground. He went all out -- right into a bamboo stalk. His whole arm was literally purple, but he didn’t miss a beat, went back and did it again. Sly did the lead-up and exit, and our stunt double made the big jump off the cliff in between.”

So how did Stahelski feel about Stallone after “Rambo” wrapped? “He impressed us as a filmmaker and as a very clever man. It wasn’t a bad way to spend six months.”