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.
How would Will have turned out if he never met Grace? If the series premiere of Perception is any indication, not great. Will & Grace star Eric McCormack headlines TNT’s new crime drama as a college professor and neuroscientist with a penchant for accusing students of wanting to sleep with him, “air conducting” to headsets of classical music (cassette tapes only) in broad daylight, and seeing people who aren’t actually there — he’s schizophrenic. But, in TV’s true fashion of romanticizing psychological imbalance, he’s also a charming genius.
The series opens with Daniel Pierce (McCormack) being approached by a former student with a special place in his heart: Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), a recently demoted FBI agent who has returned to Chicago, and is now calling on her old teacher to once again aid in the investigation of a crime. Pierce’s expertise proves useful in cases involving mentally unbalanced individuals: in this situation, the woman accused of murdering her husband appears to be delusional, as is presumed by Moretti — and later confirmed by Pierce — to be innocent. As we can see almost immediately, he’s one hell of a detective in his own right.
But he’s also sick. Pierce struggles with discerning reality from hallucinations in this episode — a new figment of his imagination comes forth, likely provoked by the anxiety of having his cherished Moretti back in his life. Pierce is afraid that she’ll see him at his worst; thus, his worst is conjured.
This premise of “crazy guy solving crimes” is hardly a unique one. Many a detective series, from more recent entries like Monk and NUMB3RS, dating back past Columbo and all the way to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels — remember, Doyle wrote him to be a coke head — has employed this idea. So what separates Perception from the lot?
The most obvious thing the show has going for it is casting. Star McCormack is a terrific showman who hasn’t really had much of a chance to exemplify his talent since his NBC comedy went off the air. Cook, too, will stir up some turn-of-the-century nostalgia — it’s good to see her around again. And best of all: Arjay Smith, the titular hero on Nickelodeon’s The Journey of Allen Strange, plays Pierce’s live-in teaching assistant and sole trusted friend Lewicki — the only person who can both put up with Pierce and help him come to recognize the difference between reality and his own hallucinations.
But Perception needs more than late ‘90s nostalgia to sustain interest and quality. Therein lies the show’s strongest quality: its lead character. Yes, he’s a bit ham-fisted, and a stylized-for-television depiction of a human’s struggle with schizophrenia. But he’s interesting, and well delivered by McCormack. While some of the scenes consisting mainly of crime procedural devices plod on without offering much fun, the parts of the episode dedicated to really inspecting McCormack’s torment and mindset are quite engrossing. His character is sad and painful, funny and charming. Plus, his best friend is Allen Strange, so… there’s that again.
Unfortunately, Perception will likely keep McCormack’s development a second priority to weekly crimes. Such is the nature of this type of program. As such, the series might not have much in it worth watching for anyone uninterested in the genre specifically. But if a happy medium can be discovered, wherein McCormack’s character is allowed to shine beyond the confines of helping She’s All That figure out if the guy who thinks Satan lives in his dishwasher actually murdered his landlord or not, then it might be a show worth sticking to.
[Photo Credit: TNT]
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