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"300"
(2007) (Gerard Butler, Lena Headey) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Drama: A Spartan king leads his small, but fierce army into battle against the immense invading Persian army.
PLOT:
It's 480 B.C. and Persian king Xerxes (RODRIGO SANTORO) is intent on ruling all lands. This doesn't sit well with the inhabitants of Greek city-state Sparta, especially when it comes to their king, Leonidas (GERARD BUTLER). Having been trained his entire life to be a great warrior, he seeks the customary divine advice before going to war, but he gets permission neither from the mystical oracle and mountain prophets nor the government Council.

Accordingly, he unofficially sets out with 300 of his most highly trained soldiers to battle the Persians. While vastly outnumbered, Leonidas has a military plan that should work to the advantage of his small contingent. By forcing the Persians through the Pass of Thermopylae, he contends his better-trained men will be able to hold back the advance and thus defeat the enemy.

While he won't allow the deformed Ephialtes (ANDREW TIERNAN) to join their ranks for fear of him being the proverbial weak link in their plan, Leonidas sets out for the coast with his Captain (VINCENT REGAN) and the rest, including Dilios (DAVID WENHAM), who will later tell their tale of courage and sacrifice to others.

Back home, Queen Gorgo (LENA HEADEY) tries to persuade various council members, such as Theron (DOMINIC WEST), to send army reinforcements to support her husband. As she pursues her domestic quest, her husband and his contingent of 300 soldiers must use every bit of wit, creativity, courage, and bravado as they begin their battle with Xerxes and his huge army.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
"But a deltoid and a bicep, a hot groin and a tricep.
Makes me shake, makes me wanna take Charles Atlas by the...hand.
In just seven days I can make you a man."

For those familiar with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the above portion of the catchy ditty "I Can Make You a Man" will no doubt bring back memories of Tim Curry's Frank N. Furter transvestite singing about creating the perfect dude for his own satisfaction.

While that might seem like a strange way to start a review about an action drama based on ancient Sparta's gallant but unsuccessful stand against the invading Persian army way back in 480 B.C., once you see the movie based on that, "300," you'll understand why the song came to mind.

After all, the film -- based on the "graphic novel" (comic book for teens and adults) of the same name by Frank Miller -- is filled with enough pumped up deltoids, biceps, triceps and other bulging muscle groups that it's nothing more than a homoerotic extravaganza from start to finish. For those who thought "Top Gun" was the epitome of such a film (thinking of all the strutting around, preening and rampant symbolism), you -- as they like to say -- ain't seen nothing yet.

Muscle-bound men, sometimes dressed in period capes but often in just small, professional wresting type shorts, parade around in all their glorious masculinity, ready to do battle against the huge, but strikingly androgynous King Xerxes and his vast, collected armies, all while yelling and basking in their camaraderie and common purpose.

As directed by Zack Snyder (the remake of "Dawn of the Dead") from his and Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon's adaptation of Miller's late '90s work, the film will obviously play well to the demographic that's into that sort of material, but teen and early twenty-something males will also think it's been made specifically for them. And that's because it's also an ultra-violent, visual spectacle that plays out and often looks like a video game, albeit one with a big budget and more than enough special effects to shake a stick, or in this case, spear, sword and/or battleaxe at.

Like "Sin City" -- the previous adaptation of one of Miller's works -- this one was filmed entirely in front a green-screen, with effects teams filling in all of the blank backgrounds with ancient Greek vistas and hellish visuals. Rather than go for the obvious comic book come to life visuals that populated its predecessor, Snyder and his team go for something of a surreal version of reality. It looks real to a degree, but obviously isn't intended to be, all of which helps with the video game vibe that runs throughout the production.

Of course, the filmmaker makes sure we don't forget that by repeatedly using the video game/music video technique of suddenly slowing down the action (usually when someone's in brief, mid-flight), speeding it up, and then slowing it down again (all the better to show off those glistening male bods when not trying its hardest to make sure no one forgets this is the coolest spectacle they've seen since, well, the last film to use the same visual trickery).

I'll admit it's something to behold from a visual standpoint, at least at times, but sweaty six-packs, piercing spears, and sinuous slow-mo alone don't make for a great movie. Or even a good one. Eye candy (yes, there are some partially nude women and a heterosexual encounter to keep the straight viewers from thinking they've accidentally stumbled into some sort of gay world) only goes so far, and yes, everything boils down to the script and whether it's any good.

Taking artistic license with the historical facts and then stripping away most of the fat (meaning the drama behind the fighting), the plot is straightforward and can be understood without any dialogue or even the sound turned on (which would help mute the fellas and all of their yelling).

Spartan boys are trained from a young age and for decades to be efficient warriors, which means that former child student King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, sort of doing the early Mel Gibson "Mad Max" meets "Braveheart" thing, but with odd, somewhat contemporary sounding dialogue) is ready for anything anyone throws his way.

Accordingly, he isn't pleased when a messenger from King Frank N. Furter, uh, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), shows up and demands surrender lest everyone face his boss' wrath (which, by the looks of him, would involve some sort of kinky S&M reprisal, shown, natch, in all of its slow motion glory). Thus, and not following the divine decision imparted by a nubile oracle and her crusty and boil-covered prophets, he sets off with a few hundred of his best men -- hence the title -- to funnel the enemy through a small passage and thus battle them like a dam facing some enormous and seemingly endless river.

After that, it's just one battle after another featuring all of the slowed-down and stylized fight footage. There's also the biggest assortment of people suffering from physical deformities probably since Tod Browning's "Freaks" (although they were real back then rather than the work of make-up artists), as well as some random scenes featuring the Queen (Lena Headey) back home having to deal with corrupt politicians (mainly Dominic West) in a subplot that's useless but at least occasionally injects some femininity into this sweaty, six-pack man show.

Her presence and a few, surprisingly effective bits of comic relief do their best to temper all of the testosterone and homoerotic material, but let's not kid ourselves -- this is all just about ripped and sweaty He-Men doing battle, in a very graphic and highly stylized fashion. If that's your cup of tea, drink up, because there's more than enough from where that comes. If not, all of the slow-motion fight scenes will simply start to blend together in a cacophony of porno-style violence, with Tim Curry wailing in the background, "I can make you, a man, man-man-man-man." "300" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 6, 2007 / Posted March 9, 2007


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