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.
If I wasn’t more dedicated to watching entire episodes of reality TV than I was keeping in touch with family and friends (I have a sickness), I would have been tempted to fast-forward through every boardroom scene of this season of Celebrity Apprentice. Spending one entire drawn-out hour watching The Donald flex his ego while Lou Ferrigno flexes his muscles and no one says anything interesting at all made it all too tempting to switch over to the far more cerebral and rewarding Mad Men.
But, Sunday night, I’m sure glad my brain chose to sit back, relax, and drink down the beer trough that is Celebrity Apprentice compared to Mad Men’s refined martini. Because, for the first time this season, we actually saw a boardroom that was worth the absurdly long one hour dedicated to it. The brawls were organic. Donald Trump was in top form. And, for once, the right person was actually sent home.
Even though it’s shocking that she was. As we’ve seen on any season of Celebrity Apprentice, The Donald never sticks to conventional rules when it comes to eliminating a star. It doesn’t matter how adept each celebrity is — The Donald will always favor drama over one’s ability to actually prove him or herself a quality businessperson/overall decent human being. It’s why Trump introduced an entire challenge that set up the milquetoast Michael Andretti to fail. It’s why Trump allowed the weak Ferrigno to get angry (and you won’t like him when he’s angry… ) at his proficient teammates for weeks before finally cutting him loose. And it’s why Dayana Mendoza made the Top 6, regardless of the fact that she had been brought into the boardroom a record six times.
Looking at the reality series’ history, it’s no surprise I found myself wondering how Trump would find a way to keep Mendoza, even after learning the beauty queen had no control over her team, and attempted to rhyme “man” with “track.” (Then again, LFO boasted a hit rhyming “speaking” and “Alex P. Keaton,” so perhaps she has a future in the music industry after all?) If he was achin’ (heh) to get rid of Clay Aiken, couldn’t the singer be blamed for pushing a genre of music that the Good Sam executives found tired and safe? Couldn’t Lampanelli be blamed for becoming completely unhinged in front of Donald Jr., during his five-minute visit to the team? Couldn’t Trump use his Jedi mind tricks (“Aubrey O'Day's boobs aren't the boobs you're looking for… ") to find a way to convince the executive that Unanimous lost the challenge? Anything to continue these verbal assaults between Mendoza and Lampanelli, right?
After all, their in-fighting was never more entertaining than it was during the boardroom Sunday night — and, clearly, us viewers weren’t the only ones who thought so. After weeks watching Donald Jr., and Ivanka look about as bored as Donald Trump at an Indy race, it was joy to see them attempting to hold back their laughter during Mendoza vs. Lampanelli. (The Trump kids… they’re just like us, if we had hundreds of millions of dollars, unfortunate hairlines, and were related to a frighteningly vampiric creature named Eric.)
Still, brains trumped beauty, and Trump ousted Mendoza, which can only mean Lampanelli has to direct her “useless” insults elsewhere. Can we hope he flips the table switch, so Lampanelli is paired with the shockingly ho-hum Teresa Giudice, who Trump hilariously labeled as a “stiff” Sunday night? Anything, please, Mr. Trump, to avoid a boring boardroom.
Tell me: Were you surprised Mendoza was sent packing? Is Lampanelli being suddenly set up as a Celebrity Apprentice do-gooder, or will her mean girl label live on? And were you, like me, wishing Mendoza and Giudice were partnered for this challenge?
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[Image Credit: NBC] More: Celebrity Apprentice: Can Dayana Mendoza Make It to the Finals? Celebrity Apprentice: Sorry, Clay. Lisa Doesn’t Hate Dayana Because She’s BeautifulCelebrity Apprentice: How Has Lisa Lampanelli Lasted This Long?