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.
David Letterman Is New Dad at 56
After his absence from The Late Show on Monday night, late-night talk show fixture David Letterman returned on Tuesday and announced that he had become the proud father of a nine-pound baby boy. "I could never imagine being a part of something that turned out this beautiful," the host said on his show Tuesday. Letterman and his girlfriend, Regina Lasko, named their child after Letterman's father, Harry Joseph Letterman, who died at 57. "So God bless Dad and God bless Harry," he said. Tuesday's Top 10 list included the reasons Letterman was excited to be a father. Number one: "There is now tangible evidence that I have had sex."
"8 Simple Rules" Without Ritter Tops Primetime
The controversial episode of ABC's hit sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter addressing the tragic loss of star John Ritter, who died suddenly in September of a heart condition, was the No. 1 primetime program Tuesday, AP reports. The episode started with the Hennessy family going about their daily routine until they get the news that dad Paul Hennessy (Ritter's character), had died of a heart attack while at the grocery store. TV personalities James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette made guest appearances as Paul's in-laws.
New Reality Show To Look for Future Porn Stars
The latest entry into the realty TV frenzy will introduce a whole new world. According to AP, California gubernatorial candidate and adult film star Mary Carey, along with a few other adult film stars, will host a new on-demand and pay-per-view only reality series that will attempt to find the next great porn star. Set to unfold over seven one-hour episodes, the series will follow 28 women as they compete for a one-year contract with a major adult film label and a cash prize of $100,000. "It's going to be an R-rated version for pay-per-view," said Silhouette Productions CEO Harry Feingold. "It's like Paradise Hotel, when they go behind the scenes. Everybody wants to know what's going on. Well, here you see it," he continued, referring to Fox's seduction-centered reality series.
Mel Gibson To Produce, Provide Inspiration for New Sitcom
Reuters reports that Oscar-winning actor Mel Gibson will team up with ABC to develop a new family comedy about raising a large family. As the father of seven children, Gibson should have an endless source of inspiration for the show, which will be co-executive produced by Emmy winning Simpsons producers Julie Thacker and Mike Scully with Gibson's company Icon Productions. Thacker and Scully, a husband-and-wife team who also have a fairly large combined family, pitched the idea to Gibson. "Mike and I decided to do a comedy about five boys because we have five girls, and trust me, there's nothing funny about that," Thacker quipped.
NBC On Top in Ratings Race
With baseball now long gone and Fox struggling with its new fall lineup, the door was left open for another network to take over the lead in the battle for television ratings. After some key lineup changes, NBC dominated the ratings race for the week ending Nov. 2, with a resurgent ER as one of the week's top shows. Reuters reports that with November sweeps under way, NBC looks set to run away from the competition, especially after Fox's cancellation of Skin and the unremarkable premiere of Arrested Development. ABC's According to Jim and Hope & Faith were strong shows for the week, as was the airing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on ABC, which drew its largest audience since 1991. The CBS special CBS at 75 attracted a noteworthy audience on Sunday, helping it to a second place finish for the week. The news wasn't all bad for Fox, however, with the season premiere of the always popular The Simpsons as well as its hit drama The O.C., which returned with its highest rating yet.
P. Diddy Awarded Athlete of the Week Honors
After successfully completing the New York City Marathon and raising some $2 million for charity, hip-hop big shot Sean "P. Diddy" Combs has been named Athlete of the Week by USA Track & Field, AP reports. In his very first attempt at the 26-mile run, Combs completed the race in a respectable 4 hours, 14 minutes, 54 seconds, going the entire time on an injured right knee. "We sat a bar and we crushed that bar," the rapper said. "This is just a start. This wasn't a publicity stunt." Proceeds from P. Diddy's fund raising efforts will go to New York City schools, the Children's Hope Foundation, and Daddy's House Social Programs. Major contributors to his cause included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fellow rap artist Jay-Z, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.
Slick Rick Could Be Released
According to Reuters, following a ruling by a federal judge that reversed a 1997 decision by the Bureau of Immigration Affairs to have him deported to the U.K., rap star Slick Rick is set to be released from his detention with Immigration and Naturalization Services. Charged with attempted murder in 1991, Ricky Walters served two years in prison, and was jailed again by the INS while awaiting deportation, which U.S. law requires for any foreign national who commits a felony in this country. In 1995, Immigration Affairs issued a waiver allowing Walters to be set free and remain in the country, considering, among other things, his family matters, rehabilitation and recording career. However, he was arrested in May 2002 in Miami and charged with self-deportation and illegally re-entering the country after performing aboard a Caribbean cruise ship in international waters. On Monday, Judge Kimba Wood determined that this latest incarceration denied the rapper due process and reinstated Immigration Affairs' original 1995 decision.
Big Names Return to "Producers"
After much speculation, stage and screen actors Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane will return to claim their original roles in the Mel Brooks musical, The Producers