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A SLICE OF BLOODY, GORY MAYAN LIFE IN `APOCALYPTO'.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

`Apocalypto' starts with flatulence and ends with a disembowelment, which, in writer-director Mel Gibson's mind, is probably the natural order of things.

In between, there is so much over-the-top savagery -- rapes, severed heads, beating hearts yanked from chest cavities, testicles served as a snack (that last item is Gibson's idea of comic relief) -- that, at some point or other, you either bury your head in your hands or you start to laugh.

I'd go with the latter choice, but I certainly would understand why others might want to steer clear of the movie altogether.

``Apocalypto,'' as you may know, is set against the backdrop of a waning Mayan civilization from the early 16th century. Gibson, who concocted the subtitled movie with Farhad Safinia, means for us to ruminate -- for a nanosecond or two -- about great civilizations decaying from within (get that, Americans?), but the movie pays only lip service to the intellect.

What Gibson really wants is to make your heart pound and your blood run cold. He succeeds on both counts, though not before roughly 45 minutes of self-parody. The movie opens in the jungle, presenting a group of free-spirited, testicle-eating, family-loving tribe members going about their lives in a way that the Three Stooges might have if they had actually been athletic, attractive, surrounded by half-naked women and living in the 16th century.

It doesn't take long for a band of marauders to interrupt this peaceful, easy feeling, pillaging the village with a brutality that is hard to stomach. This attack lasts the better part of a day, and the next morning the men are shackled to poles for their long, cruel march to Golgotha ... er ... the Mayan capital.

But en route to the city, the Mayas and their captives encounter a spooky, diseased girl who forecasts doom, telling of the ``blackness of day,'' and a time when a ``jaguar man will lead to your end.''

Based on what follows, it's clear that the rape of the village was just a warm-up for the main event, as ``Apocalypto'' turns into an epic chase movie about a brave villager, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), attempting to get back to the jungle where he stashed his pregnant wife and young son.

The Mayan city is straight out of Dante's nightmares, a chaotic commercial center ruled by pagans who give the people what they want -- decapitating prisoners, sending their blood flowing and their heads bouncing down monument steps. Cecil B. DeMille would probably have pulled out his own beating heart had he lived to see the movie.

Tom Sanders' brilliant production design is matched by Dean Semler's seamless camerawork as the final, over-in-the-blink-of-an-eye hour of the movie follows Jaguar Paw's eventful journey home.

Credit Gibson -- he has come up with some devilish ways for his hero to exact revenge. And by this point, you've become so used to the chewed-off faces, you can't help but smile when Jaguar Paw viciously dispatches yet another victim.

Gibson clearly learned something from George Miller while making the ``Mad Max'' movies. ``Apocalypto'' owes a particular debt to ``The Road Warrior,'' and, by its bloody end, has joined it as one of the greatest chase adventures you'll ever see. Just don't eat beforehand -- and, yes, that means Rocky Mountain oysters, too.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

APOCALYPTO - Three stars

(R: graphic violence, disturbing images)

Starring: Rudy Youngblood.

Director: Mel Gibson.

Running time: 2 hr. 18 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Mad Mel's latest goes from self-parody to a great chase adventure. In Yucatec Maya with English subtitles.

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Young Mayas (Dalia Hernandez, Rudy Youngblood) flee the marauding of their village in the brutal ``Apocalypto.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 8, 2006
Words:622
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