Sylvester Stallone in RamboRAMBO and MEET THE SPARTANS

In recent articles, I've mentioned how thoroughly I'd been looking forward to There Will Be Blood, and some might wonder whether my anticipation had me predestined to love the film, regardless of what was actually on-screen. I'd like to think not, but it's hard to deny that expectations do play an enormous part in one's enjoyment - or lack thereof - of any movie.

For instance, I walk into every new David Fincher or Coen brothers picture with excitement, and it dissipates irrationally quickly when confronted with a Panic Room or an Intolerable Cruelty; expecting excellence only to be confronted with mediocrity, my high hopes probably make me dislike these movies more than I should. Yet occasionally, I'll attend a movie expecting a dismal time, only to have more fun that I would've though possible.

Take Rambo, Sylvester Stallone's cinematic resuscitation of his monosyllabic '80s ass-kicker. As a viewer for whom 2006's Rocky Balboa was both shameless and humiliating, this new venture sounded almost ineffably misguided - another chance for the screen icon to be grimly determined about not fading into obscurity. The notion of a 60-year-old, one-man militia swooping in to systematically annihilate the evildoers of Burma - two decades after performing similar services in Vietnam and Afghanistan - seemed ridiculous and beyond offensive; I entered Rambo's auditorium, hunkered down, and prepared for the worst.

Incredibly, it never comes. The script, which finds our humorless he-man rescuing imprisoned American missionaries, is almost shockingly primitive, but the movie is briskly edited and suffused with an admirable sense of moral indignation, and the routine bursts of ultra-violence are so cartoonishly over-scaled that they're actually pretty damned entertaining; heads are lopped off and entrails are spilled with a demented fervor that's surprisingly tough to resist. I entered Rambo anticipating the most insufferable movie I'd see in 2008. It's only January, and I've already seen at least three that were far inferior.

Carmen Electra, Sean Maguire, and Kevin Sorbo in Meet the SpartansOne of them is the 300 goof Meet the Spartans, which - based on writer/directors Jason Friedberg's and Aaron Seltzer's previous, achingly obvious parodies Date Movie and Epic Movie - I was dreading nearly as much as Stallone's offering. And Lord knows it's bad; the unfunny skits, such as the extended Stomp the Yard satire, go on for-freaking-ever, and its one "insight," revealing 300 to be an unintentionally hilarious, homoerotic camp classic, was (for many of us) already old news back in March.

Having said that, I'll admit to smiling at the witty (though still overlong) Grand Theft Auto parody and at the legion of soldiers heading off to battle while holding hands, skipping, and singing along to Gloria Gaynor, and I even laughed once, at the sight of a newborn baby's six-pack abs. That's more enjoyment than I had at Date Movie and Epic Movie combined. Lowered expectations frequently do help.

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