Grade: C-

Anybody who’s been waiting with bated breath for a remake of “Rambo” can rest easy–it’s here. “The Hunted” doesn’t advertise itself as a retread of Sylvester Stallone’s 1982 actioner, of course, but that’s just a technicality. The debt is so obvious that David Morrell might consider legal action.

But then so could the audience; one should expect a great deal more from a collaboration of no fewer than three Oscar winners. After all, this effort from Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin apes the old flick mercilessly, though it does update things; and while it features two Academy Award-winning stars, it demeans them both as it lurches from brutality to brutality on the way to a labored, exhausting conclusion. Benicio Del Toro takes over Sly’s part as Aaron Hallam, a US Special Ops soldier tormented by his experiences not in Vietnam but in Kosovo. When he begins using his skills to attack people in the Oregon woods (we see him fillet a couple of deer hunters at the start), his old mentor L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones, standing in for the late Richard Crenna) is called in by FBI agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) to track down his prize student and bring him in–dead or alive. There are further complications–a laborious fight, a capture, the obligatory escape, a chase through Portland’s sewers and parks–but it all comes down to a cat-and-mouse game between hunter and hunted, teacher and pupil. The picture ends, of course, in an elaborate confrontation between the two men which, one has to say, is unnecessarily protracted and gory.

One would have thought that Jones is getting tired of doing these hot pursuit roles by now. With “The Fugitive,” “U.S. Marshals” and “Double Jeopardy” under his belt, running must be second nature to him. (Maybe it beats acting.) To be sure, here he’s given a couple of character quirks to render him a lovable eccentric–he’s got a bad case of vertigo and hates to fly (though, truth to tell, the malady seems to vanish whenever the plot needs him to climb somewhere), and as a rustic he reacts to the urban landscape with a halting, nervous demeanor that’s meant to be endearing. But even Jones can’t make Bonham a real person rather than a collection of writer’s conventions. Del Toro is required to do a lot of running and sneaking about as well, but mostly he just has to look quietly creepy and remote–and strangeness is, quite frankly, something that seems to come easily to him. Nielsen is pretty much wasted in a part that’s practically identical to the one she plays in the upcoming “Basic” with John Travolta, and the major supporting players–Ron Canada and Jose Zuniga as a couple of FBI agents, for example–just go through the motions.

“The Hunted” is professionally made–Friedkin, after all, has never lost his touch with action sequences (even the emptiest ones), and the picture boasts atmospheric cinematography by old pro Caleb Deschanel and a music score by Brian Tyler that comes on strong toward the end (in the earlier portions of the film it’s barely noticeable). But in the final analysis the movie seems little more than a vapid exercise in mood and mayhem; the effort to give it some subtext with the Kosovo prologue comes across as a tawdry use of a genocidal tragedy, and the last thirty minutes grow increasingly ludicrous and unpleasant. Perhaps extreme animal-rights activists will be moved by the lead characters’ concern for critters in the wild, but even this feels like a easy plea for audience sympathy. And, needless to say, the script makes absolutely no intelligent observations about the realities of combat stress or the psychological impact of extreme forms of military training.

As a result this curiously ghoulish picture represents not “First Blood,” as “Rambo” was actually called, but “Tired Blood.” Let’s just hope it’s also “Final Blood.”