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So, new Rambo has a subtle side

An image that originally was meant for a T-shirt becomes an arresting harbinger for the fourth installment in the series.

January 14, 2008|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

You've no doubt seen the posters around town for the new movie "Rambo," Sylvester Stallone's Vietnam-era warrior-martyr John Rambo made into a street-graffiti-like icon.

In a city where massive billboards for movies and TV shows hover over every intersection like demigods, the "Rambo" poster stands out; it's at once eye-catching and subtle, more evocative of a hipster's T-shirt than a marketing scheme to promote the fourth (and first, in 20 years) installment in the "Rambo" series.

The stencil-and-spray-paint image, done by Jason Lindeman of Ignition Print, seems a nod to the work of Banksy, the infamous and ironical British graffiti artist whose work now commands high sums.

The "Rambo" image was originally just designed for a T-shirt -- a kind of "Che Guevara meets Jesus" motif, said Tim Palen, co-president of marketing for Lionsgate, which is releasing "Rambo" on Jan. 25.

"This was never meant to be the whole backbone of the campaign," Palen said, noting that the image has ended up as an 80-foot billboard in Times Square.

Rambo was last in Afghanistan on a rescue mission, aligned with mujahedin rebels against the Soviets (in 1988's "Rambo III"). That, of course, was then.

In the new "Rambo" (written and directed by Stallone), our mercenary with a heart of gold is not in Iraq but northern Thailand, living "a solitary, simple life in the mountains and jungles, fishing and catching poisonous snakes to sell," according to the synopsis on the film's official website.

Rambo in repose? Not for long; there's a civil war in his 'hood and missionaries gone missing.

Still, the poster for the new film is markedly peaceable when compared to previous ad campaigns, including 1982's "First Blood" (Rambo wearing submachine gun) and 1985's "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (Rambo wearing rocket-propelled grenade).

Stallone did not respond to an interview request made via his publicist. But Palen called him enthusiastic about the whole Rambo-as-post-ironic-iconography idea, which has spawned various street-art retorts, including a competing Rimbaud poster at a public transit stop in San Francisco.

"Every step of the way, he kept saying, 'It's amazing,' " Palen said of Stallone's reaction. "He was really happy about it."

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