Vladimir Kulich, left, and Paul Giamatti in a scene from "Ironclad." (ARC Entertainment )
There are two kinds of extremes at play in the brutal, medieval action drama "Ironclad": sword-fighting gore of the splitting-a-human-in-half kind, and Paul Giamatti's snarly outrage as bloodthirsty 13th century English ruler King John.
Huffing and puffing between scenes of grueling warfare is a muscular if cheesy tale of resistance heroism, made for teenage boys interested in "300"-style violence and chest-heaving martyrdom on a more rough-and-tumble scale.
Director Jonathan English, working from a blunt script by himself, Erick Kastel and Stephen McDool, focuses on a band of rebel knights led by James Purefoy's stoic warrior and assembled by Baron Albany (Brian Cox). Together they fight off John's vicious reneging of the authority-stripping Magna Carta by holding their ground against the king's forces at strategic stronghold Rochester Castle.
A half-dozen genre signposts — "The Seven Samurai," Robin Hood, gang-reassembling heist films, even "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" — have been grafted, unintentionally or not, onto this hard slice of English history. The resulting film has an air of desperation, as if the director felt besieged himself, with pressures to give history a video-game-savage urgency.
Though the hambone acting quotient is high (and not necessarily unenjoyable), the loud, closely photographed limb-hacking becomes as monotonous as the movie's unrelentingly gray palette.
"Ironclad." MPAA rating: R for strong graphic brutal battle sequences, and brief nudity. Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute. At AMC Burbank Town Center 8, Burbank; AMC Ontario Mills 30, Ontario; AMC Loews Broadway 4, Santa Monica; AMC 30 at the Block, Orange.