March 09, 2007 at 09:40 PM EST

Okay, here’s what I’m getting from the reviews of 300, director Zach Snyder’s (2004’s Dawn of the Dead) epic battle film: a headache from all the plot summaries. If you want a simple one that still has plenty of color, go with The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott:

300 is about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid. Adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, it offers up a bombastic spectacle of honor and betrayal, rendered in images that might have been airbrushed onto a customized van sometime in the late 1970s…. It’s all about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, which unfolded at a narrow pass on the coast of Greece…. Devotees of the pectoral, deltoid and other fine muscle groups will find much to savor as King Leonidas (Gerard Butler [pictured]) leads 300 prime Spartan porterhouses into battle against Persian forces commanded by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a decadent self-proclaimed deity who wants, as all good movie villains do, to rule the world. The Persians, pioneers in the art of facial piercing, have vastly greater numbers… but the Spartans clearly have superior health clubs and electrolysis facilities. They also hew to a warrior ethic of valor and freedom that makes them, despite their gleeful appetite for killing, the good guys in this tale.”

With that out of the way, let’s focus on what everyone’s talking about. The look of the film? No. The hot men? Yes! Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers says, “Spears, swords and other handy phallic symbols pierce skin with startling regularity, causing great gushes of cartoon blood that make it really sticky for guys to walk in sandals. And what guys! Decked out like gladiators in a gay fashion layout, the soldiers from the Greek city-state of Sparta look gym-ready for battle in crotch-squeezing ensembles that expose as much flesh as an R rating will allow.” The Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips puts it simply: “The movie should’ve been called Ode to a Grecian Ab.”

addCredit(“300: Warner Bros. Ent.”)

Meanwhile, Newsday‘sGene Seymour takes some time to explain why the fim’s (questionable)fashion sense should render any debates about whether the film is acomment on George W. Bush and Iraq moot: “If 300 carried anyintellectual heft (if, in other words, it was scrupulous with historicdetails), one could see the point of thrashing these provocativenotions to their metaphoric nubs. But this movie in no way pretends tobe a replication of historical events. It is, instead, a willedhallucination of ancient history goosed with mutant warriors, rhinosoutfitted like Sherman tanks and a King Xerxes who’s dolled up withenough glittering threads and glossy makeup to make every David Bowiewanna-be from the mid-1970s chew his knuckles in fuming envy.”

EW‘sown Lisa Schwarzbaum muses eloquently about costar Dominic West’s “leathergirdle,” but she also makes the point that many critics do: “Look, butdon’t be touched: There is much to see but little to remember in thistelling of a battle we are meant never to forget.” One person who won’tbe forgetting this film anytime soon appears to be Arizona Star‘s Phil Villarreal, who offers this analysis, unironically: “The movie 300 is rated R for “RAAAAAR!” and is about as inspirational as Field of Dreams multiplied by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,plus infinity. High school football coaches who show this to theirplayers before games are guaranteed to win 55-0. Should opposingcoaches show the DVD to each of their teams before the matchup, arupture in the space-time continuum will occur and the game will bedeclared a tie.”

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