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.
Dear studios, if you have a high profile film that has been all over the news recently and you suddenly get a cameo by a former President, there is a way to take care of it. You handle it like you would a 1950s teenage pregnancy, i.e. you don’t talk about it. The best cameos are the ones we don’t expect. A cameo's comedic value is derived from its potential to surprise you, that is, if you’re completely surprised by the cameo then you’re more likely to tell your friends about it and they’ll be more enthused to see the film. But if everyone already knows about it, the potential is wasted. Which brings me to the article at hand.
Since this story will more than likely spread like wildfire because every bit of casting news for The Hangover 2 is like crack for entertainment sites, former President Bill Clinton made an appearance on the Thailand set of Warner Bros. wacky sequel late last week for a brief spot in the film. Clinton joins Paul Giamatti and Liam Neeson as big shots who have graced the production hoping for a career boost like Mike Tyson's. And we don’t need a reminder that Neeson stepped in for Mel Gibson after a few people complained.
Seeing Clinton in The Hangover 2 will be awesome. You know what would’ve been even better? Not knowing about Clinton being in The Hangover 2. Granted, Todd Phillips and Co. could have wanted this to be kept under wraps and word could have slipped out because its kind of hard for a former President to do anything in secret (as Bill Clinton probably knows) but still, we blame this on the studio for trying to drum up interest in the movie (like it really needed anymore publicity).
I know this sounds like whining about spoilers, but wasn’t it awesome when Bill Murray made that cameo in Zombieland and no one knew about it? Sure, Zombieland was a smaller film, but wouldn’t it have been sweet if The Hangover 2 got the same treatment? I’m just worried Clinton’s cameo will suffer like Al Gore’s 30 Rock cameo (which heavily promoted his only funny line and then when he finally showed up in the episode we had seen it all and the magic was gone, not too mention the fact that David Schwimmer played a much bigger part in the episode and was barely mentioned). Lets just all pretend this article never happened and go about our day, shall we? We'll help: new Girl Talk!