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.
Top Story: Kate Hudson Expecting First Child
Actress Kate Hudson and her rock star husband, Chris Robinson, are expecting their first child early next year, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Hudson, whose moment to shine came in her breakout role as Penny Lane in the 2000 Oscar winning movie Almost Famous, declined to give a more exact due date for the baby. Hudson, 24, and Robinson, 36, were married in December 2000. Robinson, the former frontman for the Black Crowes, is expected to begin touring again soon with his new band, New Earth Mud. Hudson is currently starring in the romantic comedy Alex and Emma, which opens this weekend. This will make a grandmother of Hudson's Oscar-winning mom, Goldie Hawn, the star of the 1960s TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
Spears, Berry and Costner Get Hollywood Stars
Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Kevin Costner are getting stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, Johnny Grant, chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday. Anthony Hopkins, John Singleton, Ted Turner, Glenn Close, Journey and 17-year-old twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will also get the celebrated sidewalk honor next year.
Stewart Trial Set for January 12
A federal judge ruled Thursday that Martha Stewart's trial for securities fraud will start on Jan. 12, Reuters reports. U.S. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum set the trial date after defense lawyers said they needed more time to review the government's evidence against Stewart and Peter Bacanovic, her former stockbroker at Merrill Lynch & Co. Stewart, 61, was indicted June 4 and pleaded not guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements. If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
Actor's Union Shuts Down Voight Project
About 30 union actors and crew members, including Tess Harper and James Cromwell, have managed to shut down the non-union film Deadly Course, a project they believed was being produced by Screen Actors' Guild member Jon Voight. A representative of the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) who asked not to be identified told Reuters, "The working conditions were horrendous. The pay was terrible. Some people were getting $6-$7 an hour. Some were working 20-hour days." Voight confirmed to Reuters the project had been completely shut down but insisted he was not working on the film.
Exorcist Author, Director Sue Warner Bros.
William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, and William Friedkin, the director of the 1973 movie, have filed suit against Warner Bros., claiming the studio breached its fiduciary duty by self-dealing the rights for a newer version of the film. They also claim the studio would sell the rights to its sister cable TV networks TNT and TBS for little to no profit. Warner Bros., however, asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, claiming it has no financial responsibility to Blatty and Friedkin. Superior Court Judge Laurie Zelon denied Thursday Blatty and Friedkin's claim of breach of fiduciary duty, but set a July 14 trial for the two's claims of breach of contract and misrepresented accounting, the AP reports.
No Spike TV for Viacom
The five appellate judges of the New York State Supreme Court upheld an injunction Thursday preventing media conglomerate Viacom Inc. from renaming its TNN cable network "Spike TV," Reuters reports. Filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and 25th Hour, had won a temporary injunction last week stopping the name change, claiming he feared he would be erroneously associated with the network. Viacom, which plans to feature racy animated series such as Pamela Anderson's Stripperella and The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, wanted to change the name of its cable network to coincide with a programming shift.
Russell Simmons Pushes To Reform Drug Law
Impresario Russell Simmons went to Albany, N.Y., to push politicians to reform drug laws, but instead got blamed for taking up too much of the legislature's time. According to Reuters, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said the Wednesday night seven-hour marathon meeting with Simmons "took too much time." The two sides made progress, however, reaching a last minute agreement on how to reduce sentences for people now serving time mandated by the Rockefeller-era drug laws, which often result in jail time for first offenses and give judges almost no discretion.
Celebrities Entertain U.S. Troops in Gulf
Kid Rock and Wayne Newton will perform for U.S. troops in the Gulf this week as part of the first large-scale entertainment tour of the region. Dubbed Project Salute 2003, the performers will visits American military personnel in Baghdad, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the Ali al-Salem air base in Kuwait, said Donna St. John, Reuters reports. Other celebs on the entertainment roster include actresses Alyssa Milano, Brittany Murphy, country singer Lee Ann Womack, actor Gary Sinise, comedian Paul Rodriguez and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
Role Call: Zellweger To Play Joplin in Feature Biopic