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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Julianne Moore plays Audrey Woods an undefeated divorce attorney whose neurotic need for junk food and impossibly hip mom (Frances Fisher) might be the reasons for why she's been single all her 35 years (in Hollywood logic anyway). While marching into a particularly messy divorce case she meets Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) a slovenly but damn sexy divorce attorney who also has never lost a case in spite of his seemingly precarious methods. He's immediately smitten but she's uptight or in denial or a combination of the two even after they get drunk a half an hour into the film and fall into bed. Oops. They find themselves at battle when Audrey courts a kooky but famous dress designer getting a divorce (Parker Posey) who opts to hire Daniel as her laywer leading an infuriated Audrey to take on the philandering rock star husband as her client. While Audrey and Daniel compete they scope out the estranged couple's biggest asset--a glorious castle in Ireland. In Lucky Charm land where everything is apparently a party the attorneys loosen up at a local festival dancing jigs and getting drunk again. This time they not only sleep with each other but get married! Disaster! What to do?
Moore has so far been the queen of torment specializing in women who've suffered from maladies ranging from cocaine addiction (Boogie Nights) severe environmental allergies (Safe) and repressed lesbianism (The Hours). Maybe she wanted to take a vacation from the dark side by tackling a character who's biggest problem is her Cheetos consumption but more likely she thought playing (gasp!) funny would further prove her acting mettle. But getting laughs is a lot tougher than it looks if you're good and really really tough looking if you're not. Awkwardly stumbling through this fifth-rate screwball comedy Moore is positively tragic thudding out one-liners with the grace of a wounded deer. The breezy Brosnan fares better only because his ingratiating lilt and calm demeanor makes him at least charming though when in one "funny" scene he picks a fleck of food off her face puts in his mouth and utters the name of a Hostess product ("Snowball...")--even he can't make that sexy.
Director Peter Howitt attempts to capture the sparkle and magic of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy specifically their legal screwball Adam's Rib but considering this is the same director who un-funnied Rowan Atkinson in the abysmal Johnny English why anyone would trust him with such a feat is baffling. Maybe it was his other hilarious film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow that convinced 'em. Right. Working with the ham-fisted screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling (if we are to assume this is the actual first draft) Howitt directs with little distinction other than managing to make the typically side-splitting Parker Posey barely half hearted. Though there are a few moments that garner a mini giggle Laws of Attraction is lazy and at 90 minutes lumbering. Howitt's idea of humor is placing a Hostess pastry in front of the luminous Moore and making James Bond work in a sloppy office (Get it? Yeah…). In the famous words of a five-year-old it's so funny we forgot to laugh.