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Rambo 

Sly Stallone gets jungle fever

Genre: Paramilitary blood orgy

The pitch: Vietnam vet/killing machine John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) journeys from his snake-catching retirement in Thailand to genocide-ravaged Burma to rescue some American missionaries -- especially the blond one (Julie Benz) -- and blow a bunch of ethnic-cleansing bad guys to smithereens.

Money shots: Our hero forges metal in his own smithy like a combination of Thor, Vulcan and Samson. Rambo breaks up a murderous blood sport by shooting arrows through various heads. A leftover bomb from WWII explodes with tree-snapping, hurricane-level force. One of the "pacifist" missionaries goes caveman on a bad guy with a big rock.

Body count: In a tally of all four Rambo films, the L.A. Times asserts that Rambo has 236 kills, with the title role claiming 83 of them. That seems a little high to me, but clearly scores of people get shot, exploded, bisected, decapitated and/or flamethrowered.

Best bad line: "Live for nothing, or die for something," Rambo growls to the mercenaries supposedly on a rescue mission.

Worst lines: Rambo says, "What you're trying to do is change what is." Benz asks, "And what is?" Rambo says, "Go home." It's like Abbott and Costello.

Fashion statements: Rambo still wears that headband, keeping continuity with the 1980s. Benz's wardrobe is all virginal white, including a fishing hat. The bad Burmese, notably a boy-loving commanding officer, favor sunglasses and military fatigues.

Political subtext: Confusing. In 2008, you'd think Rambo would find ass to kick in the Middle East, to give us a surrogate victory in the Iraq war. Instead, by putting him in the jungles of Southeast Asia (where he's on the side of the native Christians, conspicuously), it's like Rambo wants to evoke his Reagan-era surrogate victories over the Viet Cong.

Off-screen controversy: Stallone meant to draw attention to the genuine plight of the people in Burma (now called Myanmar, although you wouldn't know that from the film). But he's attracted more headlines with his admission of using human growth hormone, and between the testosterone and his long hair, he's got a lumbering, Sasquatchy look.

Better than the others? Compared with the heavy-handed, jingoistic sequels, it's easy to forget that the original First Blood was both a cracking action movie and an ambiguous portrayal of how America treats its war veterans. Rambo's jaw-dropping carnage is never boring, but the film doesn't draw even with First Blood.

Meta-moment: Rambo is preceded by a trailer for Son of Rambow, an English comedy about two boys who make their own unauthorized sequel to Stallone's franchise. So which is the more overt self-parody?

The bottom line: At 61, Stallone directs his seventh film (and first in the Rambo franchise) like he's trying to prove he's got the chops for today's torture-porn franchises such as Hostel, and offers a revenge fantasy for audiences who want their kills in quantity more than quality. 2 stars.

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