Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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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.
Olsen twin goes home
Teen actress Mary-Kate Olsen has been released from a health facility where she underwent six weeks of treatment for an eating disorder widely reported to be anorexia, her spokesman told Reuters on Monday. The 18-year-old icon is "feeling very well" and will continue treatment privately while preparing for college, her publicist Michael Pagnotta said. "The focus right now is on school," Pagnotta said in a statement. "She intends to live her day-to-day life normally. ... She won't be hiding. She'll be going out and doing a lot of the things that she's missed doing over the past few weeks." Olsen and her twin sister Ashley plan to enroll together at New York University in August.
Ja Rule faces assault charges
Ja Rule turned himself into Toronto police Monday and was charged with assault, following an incident at a downtown club last month, Reuters reports. Since a judge allowed a publication ban on the details of the case, authorities would say only that the charge stems from a June 5 incident at a Toronto nightclub. No more information was available. "There's no celebrity justice here," the rapper's lawyer said outside the courthouse. "You don't get treated differently in this country if your name is Martha, Michael or Ja Rule, everyone is treated the same and he'll be treated fairly." The 28-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, made a brief court appearance and was released on $7,500 bail.
CSI actors rehired at original salary
CBS has rehired CSI: Crime Scene Investigation stars Jorja Fox and George Eads at their original salaries of $100,000 per episode, the AP reports. Fox was dismissed July 14 after failing to provide written assurance that she planned to show up for the start of production on the series' fifth season, while Eads was let go the next day when he didn't show up for work. At the time, both actors were in salary negotiations with the network. After they were canned, Fox and Eads released appeasing statements explaining their predicaments as the result of misunderstandings.
Soprano fans must wait until 2006
Cabler HBO announced Thursday that the sixth and final season of the hit mob drama The Sopranos won't premiere until sometime in 2006, The Associated Press reports. The show, which stars James Gandolfini in the lead role of Anthony Soprano, wrapped up its fifth season last month. "It's like the Harry Potter book," HBO chairman Chris Albrecht said. "You'll wait very long and be happy when you get it." Albrecht added Sopranos creator and executive producer David Chase could now take all the time he needs to write, suggesting the final season could become longer than the customary 10 episodes Chase committed to in January.
Seacrest's On Air off air in some markets
On Air With Ryan Seacrest will soon be off the air in some parts of the country due to low ratings. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the Sinclair Broadcast Group has pulled the syndicated talk show from more than 20 of its TV stations. Sinclair stations that carry the American Idol host's show include WCWB in Pittsburgh, WLFL in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., WZTV in Nashville, WTTEL in Columbus, Ohio, and KABB in San Antonio. The move could deal a major blow to On Air, which has been struggling with low ratings since its debuted in January. It's unclear, however, when the move will take effect.
Actor Sorrells arrested in shooting death
Veteran actor Robert Sorrells, who starred in numerous film and TV Westerns including the 1969 feature Death of a Gunfighter and the popular TV series Gunsmoke, was arrested Monday for investigation of murder after witnesses told police he walked into a Simi Valley, Calif., bar Saturday and shot two patrons, killing one, AP reports. A bartender told L.A.'s Daily News the 74-year-old actor had been at the bar until it closed Friday night, returned Saturday morning looking for his credit card, then returned again in the afternoon and opened fire. Police said he shot Arthur De Long, 45, in the back and Edward Sanchez, 40, in the face and back. De Long was killed. Sanchez, 40, was hospitalized in serious condition, AP reports.
Jackson's defense wants more time
In a motion requesting the trial be delayed four months, Michael Jackson's defense team called the singer's child molestation investigation a "breathtaking" effort to take down a major celebrity, the AP reports. "The scope of the prosecution's investigation is breathtaking," the document stated. "This is not a usual criminal investigation. It is an effort to take down a major celebrity. The expenditure of resources by the prosecution is unprecedented and extravagant." Prosecutors said in a reply that while they would not oppose a "reasonable" delay, four months was too long. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He is free on $3 million bail and scheduled to stand trial Sept. 13.
Michael Moore getting Sicko
Director Michael Moore, whose $6 million pic Fahrenheit 9/11 become the first documentary to cross the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, won't have trouble financing his next film, Sicko, a critique of health-maintenance organizations. "Clearly, if you make a movie that has this ratio of how much it costs to its gross, you're going to find an easy time making your next film," Moore told reporters in a conference call over the weekend. Moore said the idea for Sicko grew from a segment he did on his The Awful Truth TV show, in which he staged a mock funeral at an HMO for a patient who was denied an organ transplant he needed to survive. The HMO relented and paid for the transplant.
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.