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Rambo returns to take on ‘Spartans’

'Cloverfield', 'Untraceable' also B.O. contenders

At 61, Sylvester Stallone is resurrecting Rambo after two decades.

This weekend, Stallone hits theaters in the fourth installment in the long-dormant film franchise, simply titled “Rambo.” Stallone stars and also directed and co-wrote the R-rated pic, which Lionsgate opens in 2,751 theaters.

Stallone isn’t just revisiting his own populist personas — last year’s “Rocky Balboa” made $155 million worldwide — he’s got his sights set on remaking Charles Bronson films, too, with MGM and the actor reviving the “Death Wish” franchise and “The Mechanic.”

“Rambo” won’t be the only title on the hunt for male moviegoers, although it has a built-in base among older men who grew up on the iconic 1980s franchise and is tracking solidly among younger men intrigued by the retro carnage fest, according to Lionsgate.

Paramount holdover “Cloverfield” nevertheless has a shot at remaining No. 1 in its second frame. Monster pic grossing a record-breaking $46.1 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Twentieth Century Fox and New Regency’s “300” spoof “Meet the Spartans” also could be a strong contender. The PG-13 movie is tracking well among male teens and boys. “Spartans,” from “Epic Movie” directing-writing team Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, opens in 2,605 locations.

Women won’t be ignored, either, in what’s shaping up to be a genre orgy at the domestic box office.

Sony and Screen Gems open Diane Lane cyberspace serial-killer thriller “Untraceable,” which unspools at 2,368 sites. And Fox’s Katherine Heigl romantic comedy “27 Dresses” will be heading into its second weekend.

On the more specialized side, Paramount Vantage opens 2006 Sundance entry and step-dance drama “How She Move” in 1,531 locations, while National Geographic Films bows concert pic “U2 3D” in 61 theaters in key markets. Film, which preemed last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, hopes to feed off the growing appetite for digital 3-D titles.

Meanwhile, films picking up top Oscar noms are set to up their presence at the box office this weekend or launch renewed runs.

Among all the movies, “Rambo” has the biggest curiosity factor. Stallone and Lionsgate hope for the same sort of success enjoyed by the relaunches of the “Rocky” and “Die Hard” franchises.

Lionsgate acquired “Rambo” from Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort’s Nu Image/Millennium Films, which in turn had acquired the film rights to the Rambo franchise from Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax/Dimension Films. (Lionsgate already had the homevid rights to the franchise via its acquisition of Artisan.)

Storyline carefully avoids real-life political hotspots — “Rambo III” found Stallone’s character aiding the mujahedeen in Afghanistan — and instead opens with John Rambo living a solitary life along the Thai-Burmese border. He springs into action after missionaries are caught up in a local war.

Film clocks in at roughly 91 minutes, although 11 of those minutes are credits.

The innovative marketing campaign for the film was centered on a poster featuring a simple black-and-white stencil of Stallone’s somewhat blurry face. Lionsgate marketing topper Tim Palen has described the poster as a “cross of Che Guevara with Jesus Christ by way of Andy Warhol.”

All told, the first three “Rambo” movies grossed $583.7 million at the worldwide box office. The second film, “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” was by far the most successful, grossing $150.4 million domestically and $150 million abroad.

On the specialty side, ThinkFilm opens crime drama “The Air I Breathe,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Bacon, Brendan Fraser, Forest Whitaker and Andy Garcia, in seven theaters in Gotham and L.A. IFC Films debuts Romanian illegal abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” in one theater in Gotham.

Hoping for a box office bump from Oscar nominations, Warner Bros. brings “Michael Clayton” back to theaters. Pic goes from 33 runs to 1,102.

Miramax ups the number of runs for “No Country for Old Men” from 818 to 1,107.

Focus Features expands “Atonement” from 1,291 theaters to 1,400, while Vantage boosts the location count for “There Will Be Blood” from 389 to 885.

On the foreign front, “I Am Legend” looks likely to win its sixth straight weekend, even though the Will Smith sci-fier won’t be opening in any new markets. International cume should cross the $300 million milestone during the frame, representing the 51st pic to hit that mark.

Oscar contenders will see widened releases such as Par’s “No Country for Old Men” going into Belgium, France and Switzerland. “Country” grossed $340,228 in France in its Wednesday opening and has cumed $6.7 million from five foreign markets.

“Sweeney Todd,” handled by Warner Bros. internationally, will make a major move this weekend with launches in Australia, France and the U.K. Last weekend’s openings in Japan and South Korea brought in $6.6 million.

Universal’s expanding “Charlie Wilson’s War” into Australia and New Zealand. “War” has cumed $11.5 million outside the U.S. with $6.5 million in the U.K. and $2.5 million France.

Par’s expanding domestic hit “Cloverfield” into Holland, Russia and South Korea after generating $5.8 million from half a dozen markets. It’s also opening “Bee Movie,” which has cumed $149 million internationally, in Japan.

“Rambo” will go day-and-date into a few foreign markets including Russia, and Disney will expand “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” into Brazil and Germany.