The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Top Story: Kutcher Loves Playing Dad
Ashton Kutcher, 25, loves being a surrogate father to three growing girls. The star of the TV hit That '70s Show told TV Guide he is really loving his life with girlfriend Demi Moore, 40, and her three girls with Bruce Willis: Rumer, 15; Scout, 12; and Tallulah Belle, 9. "Being a part of molding anyone's life is an incredible thing. It's an unbelievable addition to my life," Kutcher admits. "I feel like they've been shafted in the deal. I get four of them [including Moore], and all they get is me. They got the short end of the stick." And he doesn't make any apologies for the age difference between him and Moore. "She's everything to me," Kutcher says. "Funny, sweet, she's anything she wants to be." The TV Guide issues hits the stands Nov. 1.
Crowe Readies for Fatherhood
Russell Crowe is really looking forward to being a dad. "Like, whoa, this is gonna be fun," Crowe told Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart on Saturday. Crowe, who along with his wife, Danielle Spencer, are expecting their first child in January, said he plans on taking the child with him when he goes on movie sets. "I mean that's the plan at this point in time. I think prior to him going to school I think the best thing to do is to make sure that he is wherever I am," Crowe said. "Once he goes to school things are really going to have to change at supposedly that point. 'Cause I don't think I'd like to do anything, you know, more than pick him up from the school gate every day."
Ross' Lawyer Wants Breath Tests Tossed Out
A lawyer representing Diana Ross is asking that a new judge hear his request to throw out breath test results as evidence in the pop diva's drunken driving trial, The Associated Press reports. Ross was stopped Dec. 30 outside a convenience store in Tucson, Ariz., on suspicion of drunk driving and claims she was intimidated and coerced into taking the breath tests. The singer faces three DUI-related charges but has pleaded innocent. One judge has already dismissed the motion filed by Ross' lawyer and will allow the results to be used during the trial, which is now scheduled for January.
Chanel No. 5's New Face is…
Nicole Kidman. The popular French luxury company announced Friday it has signed a deal with the Oscar-winning Australian actress to represent its top selling fragrance, AP reports. "Ms. Kidman was chosen because she represents a unique standard of elegance and embodies the spirit and modernity of Chanel," the company said in a statement. Baz Luhrmann, who directed the 36-year-old actress in the musical Moulin Rouge, is creating, directing and producing the ad campaign, which will be ready in the fall of 2004, AP reports.
The Hobbits Save the Trees
Dominic Monaghan, who stars as the Hobbit Merry Brandybuck in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has banded together with his fellow castmates, including Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom, to save trees. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Monaghan is creating a program that would give Rings fans and environmentally conscious consumers the chance to adopt a tree in a forest that Monaghan hopes will be in New Zealand, where all three films were shot. "It's a way for us to keep our bond together but at the same time do something useful for the planet," Monaghan told The Reporter.
The Shining Scene Voted Scariest Ever
In an online poll for Britain Channel 4, viewers voted the scene from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining in which actor Jack Nicholson axes his way through the bathroom door and announces "Here's Johnny," is the scariest big-screen moment ever, Reuters reports. "The 100 Greatest Scary Moments," which was broadcast over the weekend, had Linda Blair's rotating head and projectile vomiting in William Friedkin's 1973 The Exorcist come in second place, while the severed head popping out of the bottom of an abandoned boat in Steven Spielberg's 1975 shark thriller Jaws was third.
Two Indie Distributors Merge
Independent distributor Lions Gate Entertainment is expected to buy its competitor Artisan Entertainment for $160 million, as well as assume $60 million of debt, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Considered archrivals, the deal between the two ends months of speculation and includes box office bonuses for the Artisan shareholders should the domestic grosses for Artisan's upcoming releases--Havana Nights: Dirty Dancing 2, due out in February, and The Punisher, set to bow in April--make some decent coin. Lions Gate recently released Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer.
Surreal Gets Real…Again
Imagine watching Tammy Faye Messner, the former mascara-ringed wife of dethroned evangelist Jim Bakker, and porn legend Ron Jeremy duke it out over who's suppose to clean the kitchen. Well, you'll get the chance with the second installment of the reality television spoof Surreal Life, in which yesterday's celebrities bunk together and have their lives taped. According to AP, the other "house" mates will include rapper Vanilla Ice, ChiPs actor Erik Estrada, former Baywatch actress Traci Bingham and Real World: Las Vegas cast member Trishelle. They will also have a celebrity guest move in each week.
Presley Tops Highest-Earning Dead Celebrities
Forbes.com released its third annual list of top earning celebrities who happen to be deceased. The top five include Elvis Presley, who made $40 million followed by Peanuts creator Charles Schultz ($32 million); Lord of the Rings