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Ready To Rambo

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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008

LOS ANGELES

Sylvester Stallone, in tight cashmere, his forearms as ripped as Popeye's, enters the hotel suite, which has been arranged for "a mini press conference." The chairs are filled with Rambo reporters, some wearing Rambo bandannas, Rambo T-shirts, Rambo fatigues. It will not be a tough crowd.

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First question: "What happened to the shot where you punched the guy's head clear off?"

The reporter is referring to the so-called sizzle reel shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year to generate interest among overseas distributors for the fourth and perhaps final installment in the Rambo saga, a journey that Stallone compares favorably to the wanderings of the relative pantywaist Ulysses in the Odyssey. "Rambo," the film, written, directed, produced by and starring Stallone, opens nationwide on Friday and is perhaps the most graphically violent R-rated movie ever.

"I know," Stallone says, about the sizzle reel. His laugh is a low growl. "That's an optical confusion. What it was, was a knife, and it was such a bad print it looked like I punched his head off. I was reading the blogs. I was, 'Come on guys, look closely, nobody can punch someone's head off.' "

But if anyone could, surely . . .

"When you're pushed," says John J. Rambo, "killing's as easy as breathing." Oh, and his buttons are most definitely pushed in the new movie. It opens with Rambo, the former Green Beret, seemingly abandoned by both his country and his beloved father figure Col. Trautman. He's living as a monosyllabic misanthrope in a hooch at the Thai Snake Farm, where tourists pay to watch performers harass cobras collected in the jungle by Rambo, whose first line of dialogue is a percussive profanity.

It has been two decades since Rambo was last seen fighting alongside the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, which he visited to rescue his beloved puppet master Col. Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) from the Russkies in the poorly received "Rambo III." The years appear to have been kind to Stallone. He is 61. His face has softened, tenderized like a piece of flank steak, whacked by a meat mallet. He sports all his unnaturally jet black hair. His skin tone and resilience are excellent, perhaps benefiting from his model wife Jennifer Flavin-Stallone's line of beauty care products (he plugs her Olive Oil Moisture Cream).With a bandanna wrapped around his head in the movie, he resembles Sitting Bull. It is intentional.

"The ponderousness that comes with aging, the sense of weight, the sense of knowledge, of knowing too much, the lack of naivete, which has happened in my life, set the stage for me," he explains. "I wanted Rambo to be heavier, bulkier, that's why his first line in the movie is pretty negative. He's given up. He has nothing."

Stallone says, "The other Rambos had a bit too much energy, were a bit too spry. I'm not trying to run myself down but there was much more vanity involved." By which he means that shirtless Rambo of yore with pectorals hard as dinner plates, glistening with baby oil as he writhes in agony and ecstasy on a makeshift cross? Exactly.

"It was all about body movement rather than the ferocity and commitment of what he was doing," Stallone says of his previous Rambos. "This character to me is much more interesting."

Anyways, in this movie Rambo's bucolic semi-retirement in Thailand is interrupted by a group of Christian missionaries who hire the idling killing machine to take them upriver in his longboat to a village of Karen people, an ethnic minority living along the Burmese border. The Karen have been fighting for independence since 1949 and are brutally repressed by the Burmese government forces, represented in the film as sadistic baby-bayonetters, led by a monkey-faced chain-smoker, the vicious Maj. Tint.


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