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.
Tornados, floods and hail the size of toasters couldn't stop one jolly green ogre from taking the top spot this Memorial Day weekend--the highest grossing in history.
With a whopping four-day total of $92.2 million, DreamWorks' animated comedy Shrek 2 reigned at the box office for the second week, surpassing the global-warming disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, which debuted at $86 million.
Bolstered by Shrek 2, this year's top 12 films grossed $233.5 million, making it the No. 1 Memorial Day weekend ever, beating 1997's record, which saw The Lost World: Jurassic Park open with a four-day total of $90.1 million.
Don't feel too sorry for Day After Tomorrow, though; it still managed to become the second best Memorial Day opener of all time, right behind The Lost World: Jurassic Park and besting last year's Bruce Almighty, which premiered with $85.7 million.
Other newcomers to this week's top 10 include the tear-jerker Raising Helen, starring Kate Hudson, which debuted in fourth place with $14 million, and the raucous comedy Soul Plane, which opened in the fifth spot with $7 million.
With the healthy chunk of change from the top 12 films this week, box office numbers were up 20.66 percent from Memorial Day weekend last year, when they totaled $193.4 million.
The top three last year included: Universal's PG-13 rated Bruce Almighty, which opened with a heavenly $85.7 million in 3,483 theaters, averaging $24,615 per theater; The Matrix Reloaded, in second in its second week with $45.6 million in 3,603 theaters, averaging $12,659 per theater; and Sony Pictures' PG rated comedy Daddy Day Care, which fell to third place in its third week with $18.1 million at 3,472 theaters with a $5,217 per theater average.
BOX OFFICE TOP 10, ESTIMATES: Memorial Day Weekend Four-Day Totals (Source: Exhibitor Relations, Inc.)
No. 1: Shrek 2 (Dreamworks, PG)
Gross: $92.2 million (-33%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 4,223 (+60)
Per-theater average: $21,833
Cume to date: $257 million
No. 2: The Day After Tomorrow (20th Century Fox, PG)
Gross: $86 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $25,109
No. 3: Troy (Warner Bros., R)
Gross: $15 million (-50%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 3,411 (unchanged)
Per-theater average: $4,400
Cume to date: $109.6 million
No. 4: Raising Helen (Buena Vista, PG-13)
Gross: $14 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $5,162
No. 5: Soul Plane (MGM, R)
Gross: $7 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $4,470
No. 6: Mean Girls (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)
Gross: $6.3 million (-30%)
Weeks opened: 5
Theaters: 2,618 (-436)
Per-theater average: $2,259
Cume to date: $73.5 million
No. 7: Van Helsing (Universal, PG-13)
Gross: $6.2 million (-54%)
Weeks opened: 4
Theaters: 2,891 (-527)
Per-theater average: $2,145
Cume to date: $100.1 million
No. 8: Man on Fire (20th Century Fox, R)
Gross: $1.9 million (-48%)
Weeks opened: 6
Theaters: 1,426 (-678)
Per-theater average: $1,701
Cume to date: $73.3 million
No. 9: 13 Going on 30 (Sony Pictures, PG-13)
Gross: $1.1 million (-56%)
Weeks opened: 6
Theaters: 1,164 (-864)
Per-theater average: $1,203
Cume to date: $54.5 million
No. 10: Super Size Me (IDP Films/Roadside Attractions, NR)
Gross: $1 million (+9%)
Weeks opened: 4
Theaters: 197 (+49)
Per-theater average: $6,873
Cume to date: $4.8 million
Saved! (United Artists, PG-13)
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $22,000
Baadassss! (Sony Pictures Classics, R)
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $4,456
Move over, Grinch, for Mel Gibson is in the house.
That said, looks like Jim Carrey's "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will finally meet its match this weekend in the form of Gibson's romantic comedy "What Women Want."
With a big opening (playing on 3,000-plus screens) and "The Grinch's" natural decline, Mel and his "Women" should be able to take the box office crown this weekend.
Here's a look at the films opening this weekend .
"What Women Want"
THE SKINNY: After playing a stuffy revolutionary-type in this summer's "The Patriot," Mel Gibson switches gear in a comedy about a guy (Gibson) endowed with the ability to hear what women think. Helen Hunt plays one of those lucky females he mind-reads, and the cast also includes Marisa Tomei, Bette Midler and Delta Burke. THE UPSIDE: Pun intended: Women want Mel Gibson. And don't just take our word for it: "I think 'What Women Want' is pretty much guaranteed the No. 1 spot. The star and the premise should be strong enough to carry the picture. It's a high-concept movie, I say high teens to $20 million is quite feasible," Brandon Gray, editor of boxofficemojo.com, told Hollywood.com. THE DOWNSIDE: 'Tis the season not so jolly for the movies. Gray explains, "It very rare for a movie to have a huge opening at this time of the year, and that is what the film has going against it."
"The Emperor's New Groove"
THE SKINNY: Disney's newest venture to regain the crown in animated features. This particular one has to do with a young emperor who fights to return to human form after he is transformed into a (yes) llama in an act of treason committed by his adviser. THE UPSIDE: It's a Disney animated film. And everyone loves that! THE DOWNSIDE: Or, do they? Let's not forget that recent Disney flicks -- "Dinosaur," for one -- have not fared so well in the new animation game.
And then there's "The Grinch."
"The Grinch" is its only competition, but that's a behemoth," Gray said. "I will place my bet in the low teens, less than 'The Grinch' probably. It could be in the No. 3 spot, depending how 'Vertical Limit' do. We have a bunch of movies here that are very close this weekend, including this one, ''Vertical Limit' and 'Dude, Where's My Car?'"
"Dude, Where's My Car?"
THE SKINNY: "That '70s Show" hottie Ashton Kutcher and "Road Trip" and "American Pie" guy Seann William Scott are a couple of stoners a la "Beavis and Butthead" who wake up one day and can't remember where they parked their car. And yes, the rest of the film is about them looking for it by retracing the night's events. THE UPSIDE: It has got the dedication of a core audience, namely the type of boys embodied by lowbrow fare such as the "Bill and Ted" flicks, "Road Trip" and "American Pie." THE DOWNSIDE: "There's no indication that this would be another "Road Trip" and "American Pie," but it's certainly not going to be another 'Whatever It Takes," Gray says. "It could come within range with 'Vertical Limit' and 'Emperor.' It's definitely going to be in the Top Five, but which movie is going to do better is a flip of the coin. But I'm leaning toward the fifth place for this film."
Also, if you happen to be in Los Angeles or New York this weekend, check out Chocolat with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, and Pollock, about the life of Abstract Expression painter Jackson Pollock, with Ed Harris as both the star and the director. Both films are opening in those cities today.
And don't forget holdovers such as "The Grinch," "Vertical Limit" and "Proof of Life."