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Stallone’s Passion

Hollywood, it seems, has found religion. First came “The Passion of the Christ,” which broke new ground in bringing Christian themes to the box office. Now there’s “The Nativity Story,” which was screened amid much fanfare at the Vatican last week, and later this month there’ll be… “Rocky Balboa.”

To publicize his latest “Rocky” sequel, Sylvester Stallone has turned to Motive Entertainment, the same grass-roots firm that successfully sold “The Passion” to the Bible Belt crowd in 2004. Stallone, it seems, is hoping that by putting a Christian sheen on his punch-drunk franchise, he’ll increase the odds of scoring a victory in the Tinseltown ring.

Stallone says that the sixth and supposedly final installment of the long-running “Rocky” series is a paean to his faith. “Rocky Balboa has lost everything, and we see him triumph,” Stallone said in a conference call with Christian groups this week. “The last thing he hears before he enters the ring is scripture, and that’s what gives him strength.” And Lord knows, as a 60-year-old boxer he’ll need all the help he can get.

The niche-marketing firm tasked with hawking “Rocky Balboa,” which opens nationwide December 22, has even set up a Web site (www.Rockyresources.com) specifically designed to assist religious leaders in disseminating the film to their flock.

Rocky has come a long way: In the third installment of the series, the champion boxer says Kaddish for his beloved trainer, Mickey, who was played by the late great Burgess Meredith.

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