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New DVD releases

RAMBO: THE COMPLETE COLLECTOR'S SET (1982-2008). The packaging is handsome. The menu designs are eye-catching. The bonus features are exemplary. So what's missing from this six-disc set? Oh, yeah, quality films to complement the bells and whistles.

Based on David Morrell's novel, First Blood (1982) is the first and best of the four films produced so far (yes, there's already talk of a fifth installment). In his most famous role next to Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone stars as John Rambo, a Vietnam vet who finds himself harassed by a small town's intolerant sheriff (Brian Dennehy). After being arrested on bogus charges, Rambo breaks free and heads into the woods, whereupon he declares war on the law enforcement yahoos who attempt to recapture him. Richard Crenna, who would also appear in the first two sequels, co-stars as Colonel Trautman, the man who turned Rambo into a fighting machine during the war, and that's David Caruso as the most sympathetic of the deputies.

A modest sleeper hit, First Blood inspired Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), which turned out to be one of the top-grossing films of its year. The slight hints at character complexity on display in the first film have been excised at this point, resulting in a straightforward action yarn in which Rambo single-handedly saves a group of POWs still being held in Vietnam years after the war has ended. Incidentally, one of the screenwriters was James Cameron, showing none of the ingenuity he brought to his scripts for The Terminator and Aliens.

Rambo III (1988) somehow manages to be even more silly than its immediate predecessor, with the taciturn muscleman sneaking into Afghanistan to rescue Colonel Trautman from the Russians. "Who do you think this man is, God?" sneers a vicious Russkie to Trautman. "God would have mercy," replies the colonel. "Rambo won't." Into other words, this is a vanity project of the highest order, although American audiences were clearly burnt out: Despite being one of the big titles to open the '88 summer movie season, it failed to earn back its budget stateside (though it was huge overseas).

Likewise, Rambo (2008) also failed to recoup its budget in U.S. theaters, though bringing the character back after a 20-year hiatus probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Here, Rambo helps a group of Christian relief workers escape from their captors in war-ravaged Burma. Stallone (who also directed) obviously wanted to shed light on the real-life atrocities being committed in that country, but wrapping that message in a movie featuring a comic-book superman proves to be a miscalculation, as actual newsreel footage of victims, combined with the movie's incredibly high gore quotient (kids are bayoneted through the chest, women are raped and shot, villains are alternately disemboweled or beheaded), leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The movies can be found on the first four discs in the set, along with audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and nifty Interactive Military Special Operations Features which provide further insight into the films. The fifth disc holds a digital copy of the latest Rambo flick, compatible with iTunes and Windows Media. And the sixth disc contains a wealth of additional material, including pieces on Vietnam and Afghanistan, a look at Rambo as a cultural icon of the Reagan '80s, and a featurette on toys inspired by the franchise.

First Blood: **1/2

Rambo: First Blood Part II: **

Rambo III: *1/2

Rambo: *1/2

Extras: ***1/2

SEMI-PRO (2008). In 1962's Only Two Can Play, Peter Sellers portrays a librarian who's tasked to write a theater review for the local newspaper. He pens the piece beforehand without even seeing the play, using the time he's supposed to be at the theater as a cover for an extramarital affair; the only reason he's caught is because the theater housing the production burns to the ground on opening night – after it's too late to stop the edition running his review. Barring a similar disaster happening at the AMC Carolina Pavilion (where I initially caught the film), I probably could have written a review for Semi-Pro without having even attended the advance screening, using the covered time to catch up on my sleep. Will Ferrell as an idiotic guy prone to infantile outbursts – check. Will MAKING LOUD NOISES and running around like a goofball in a desperate attempt to generates laughs – check. Will sporting a laughable hairstyle (this one vintage 1970s) – check. Will surrounding himself with his comedian friends, some with extremely limited talent – check. Will resorting to ca-ca and pee-pee jokes with alarming regularity – check. Will MAKING MORE LOUD NOISES – check. And so it goes, reaching a point of such creative bankruptcy that Ferrell stands poised to become as tiresome a screen jester as Robin Williams. The plot, as if anyone couldn't guess, finds Ferrell cast as Jackie Moon, the self-adoring owner of (and player on) the Flint Tropics basketball team. When it appears that there's a chance for this dreadful squad to join the NBA, Moon does his best to whip his players into shape, even bringing aboard a veteran has-been (Woody Harrelson). As one of the team's two play-by-play announcers, Andrew Daly is funny; as the other announcer, Will Arnett is not.

The 2-disc Let's Get Sweaty DVD edition includes both the R-rated theatrical version and an unrated extended cut (seven minutes longer), as well as a digital copy to be downloaded onto a PC. Extra features include 15 minutes of deleted and improvised scenes, six making-of featurettes, and the music video for Jackie Moon's "Love Me Sexy."

Movie: *1/2

Extras: **1/2

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