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.
After last weekend's Super Bowl madness, audiences were in the mood for a different kind of game--be it mind games or the challenge of cheating death--as the top three box office spots were dominated by new releases.
The new spy drama The Recruit took top honors with a decent $16.5 million*, while second place holder Final Destination 2 nearly caught up to The Recruit with $16.2 million. The third spot belonged to Biker Boyz with a slim $10.1 million.
Pushed down to the number four and five spots were last weekend's winners Kangaroo Jack at $9 million and Darkness Falls with $7.5 million.
THE TOP TEN
This weekend's box office topper, Buena Vista's PG-13 The Recruit, opened with an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 2,376 theaters ($6,944 per theater).
Directed by Roger Donaldson, it stars Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan and Gabriel Macht.
The film revolves around a brilliant college graduate (Farrell) who is recruited by a CIA veteran (Pacino), sent to The Farm--the Agency's treacherous, mind-boggling training program--and programmed to be one of the spy elite.
"Al Pacino always delivers a great performance, and when you put him with Colin Farrell, the combination just whetted the appetite of the public on all sides," Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, told the Associated Press.
Ever wonder how you could cheat death? New Line Cinema's R-rated Final Destination 2 gave us a few hints, as it opened at No. 2 with an ESTIMATED $16.2 million at 2,834 theaters ($5,716 per theater), just barely missing the top mark.
Directed by David R. Ellis, it stars A.J. Cook, Ali Larter and Michael Landes.
The sequel to the 2000 horror hit Final Destination further explores the possibility of escaping the vindictive Death, as a girl, with a premonition of a horrific car pileup on a highway, saves her friends from that particular fate, only to see them picked off one by one in other, more gruesome ways.
AP reports Final Destination 2 easily out-grossed its predecessor, which opened with $10 million. Russell Schwartz, president of domestic marketing for New Line, told AP he expects the sequel to at least match the $53 million total gross of the original Final Destination.
Coming in the third spot, DreamWorks' PG-13 Biker Boyz opened with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million at 1,766 theaters ($5,719 per theater).
Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood, it stars Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Kid Rock and Lisa Bonet.
The film follows the lives of lawyers and city workers who take to the streets by night in their leather gear to race in the world of underground motorcycle clubs.
Amazingly, Warner Bros. PG-rated Kangaroo Jack slipped only two notches to the No. 4 spot with an ESTIMATED $9 million (-22%) at 2,848 theaters ($3,172 per theater), even beating last weekend's top winner Darkness Falls. Its cume is approximately $45.8 million. Crikey!
Directed by David McNally, the silly comedy about a kangaroo who inadvertently makes off with some mob money into the wilds of the Australian Outback stars Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson and Estella Warren.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 Darkness Falls certainly toppled from its top perch to claim fifth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million (-38%) at 2,865 theaters (+28 theaters; $2,618 per theater). Its total haul is approximately $22.2 million.
Pic revolves around a young man who, having escaped the Tooth Fairy's unrelentingly evil clutches as a boy, must return to save his hometown from the curse which has plagued it. This weekend, however, cheating death is apparently more exciting than cheating the Tooth Fairy.
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, it stars Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield and Lee Cormie.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' PG-13 Chicago lost a little of its jazz, dipping from third place to sixth with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million (-13%) at 623 theaters (+7 theaters; $11,461 per theater). Yet, if Miramax opens this musical extravaganza wide, you may see the Oscar-touted film shoot back up the charts. Chicago's cume is $50.7 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
The box office charts wouldn't be complete without a few Hobbits. New Line's PG-13 smash The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers still held power in its seventh week, slipping two spots to No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-24%) at 2,175 theaters (-491 theaters; $2,299 per theater). But here's the real kicker--its total box office grosses to date is now approximately $315.9 million. Not too shabby.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 Just Married fell one spot to take eighth place with an ESTIMATED $4.9 million (-24%) at 2,408 theaters (-297 theaters; $2,035 per theater). The tale about a honeymoon from hell has gained a respectable $49.8 million so far.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.
Ninth place belonged to DreamWorks PG-13 Catch Me If You Can with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-26%) at 2,316 theaters (-460 theaters; $2,073 per theater). Its cume is approximately $151.9 million.
The biopic about con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken.
New Line's R-rated About Schmidt dropped one spot to tenth, rounding out the list with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-13%) at 1,236 theaters ($3,803 per theater). The classic slice of Americana has gathered a noteworthy $44.3 million to date with only limited release. Imagine what it could do if it goes wide.
Directed by Alexander Payne, it stars Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates.
Universal Pictures' R-rated The Guru opened in limited theaters with an ESTIMATED $648,000 at 62 theaters ($10,452 per theater).
The comedy is about an Indian man who comes to seek his fame and fortune in America but winds up becoming the next "It" guru, spouting sexual advice to New York's lonely elite. Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, the films stars Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham and Marisa Tomei.
Overall, the box office numbers for the top 12 films jumped 18 percent from last weekend's dismal $79.9 million, with a total haul of $94.6 million.
"This was a really strong weekend for a January, which is usually kind of slow," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AP. "To have two films over $16 million is not bad at all."
This weekend also saw a 20 percent increase from the same weekend last year, which took in only $78.5 million.
Last year, Sony's R-rated Black Hawk Down dominated the box office in its sixth week with $11.1 million at 3,143 theaters ($3,536 per theater); Buena Vistas' G-rated Snow Dogs was second in its third week of release with $10.1 million at 2,454 theaters ($4,156 per theater); and Warner Bros.' PG-13 teen drama A Walk to Remember held the third spot in its second week with $8.8 million at 2,420 theaters ($3,651 per theater).
After surviving a devastating car accident following her first college party freshman Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) falls into a coma and steps into a nightmare of otherworldly visitations. Haunted by a grim reaper of a far different kind her only hope is to cling to chance encounters with her lost love Sean (Casey Affleck) and the aid of a mysterious young priest named Father Jude (Luke Wilson). Cassie's malicious friends Matt (Wes Bentley) Annabel (Eliza Dushku) and the morose Raven (Angela Featherstone) seem intent on drawing her to the dark side but the spirit of her soul mate Sean guides her back to the world of the living.
Sagemiller (Get Over It) may be a fine actress but this film--her second full-length feature--isn't the one to prove it. Not that Sagemiller does a poor job but like most dull and stale horror movies the female lead isn't asked to do much other than look frightened and scream--a lot. Affleck (Good Will Hunting) Bentley (American Beauty) and Dushku (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) are among the more talented actors of their generation but are completely wasted especially Affleck in his one-dimensional role. Wilson as Father Jude is the only character with an interesting part but unfortunately the good Father's development is stunted and incomplete leaving Wilson little to work with.
Steve Carpenter's first turn as a director leaves much to be desired. Of course Carpenter wrote the formulaic script so why shouldn't he be the one to helm it? One major flaw (and there are plenty to choose from) is that nearly half the movie is shot tight on the characters giving the audience a very myopic view. Even if that was intentional it certainly did nothing to heighten the tension (what little of it there was) in the movie. The flick's tagline "The World of the Dead and the World of the Living... are About to Collide" conveys the message of an epic struggle between the forces of evil and the forces of good--a struggle that never materializes. And the film's final message that love conquers all is the boring hackneyed truism that breaks the cliché camel's back.