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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
"Gone In 60 Seconds" should have no trouble finding first place parking this weekend.
With a first-choice tracking of 27%, the PG-13-rated action thriller from Buena Vista/Touchstone is on track to steal $30-35 million at 3,006 theaters. Insiders point out that if it opens as well as "The Rock" - $25.1 million at 2,392 theaters June 7-9, 1996 ($10,481 per theater) - it would gross $31.5 million.
Who most wants to go to "Gone?" "It's very much young male," an insider says of the film's appeal. "The overall definite interest is 55%, but for young males (under 25) it's 69% and it's 46% for older men (over 25). It's 57% for young women and 48% for older women."
Look for "Gone" to drive Paramount's "Mission: Impossible-2" down one ramp to second place in its third week. The PG-13 blockbuster action adventure sequel's 19% first-choice tracking suggests "M:I-2" should continue to show good box office legs and gross about $17 million.
Directed by John Woo, it stars Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Sherbedgia and Ving Rhames.
Expect 20th Century Fox's PG-13 comedy "Big Momma's House" to slip one peg to third place in its second week.
Here, too, continued strength is likely given its 18% first-choice tracking. It should do about $15 million this weekend.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Martin Lawrence and Nia Long.
Buena Vista/Disney PG computer animated feature "Dinosaur" should wind up grazing in fourth place, down one notch in its fourth week, with about $8 million.
Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, it features such voices as D.B. Sweeney, Ossie Davis, Joan Plowright, Della Reese and Alfre Woodard.
DreamWorks' R-rated action adventure hit "Gladiator," which has been showing very good legs, has a good shot at holding on to fifth place in its sixth week. The film is half owned by Universal, which is releasing it internationally.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Spyglass Entertainment's PG-13 action comedy "Shanghai Noon" could fall two rungs to sixth place in its third week.
"I think 'Shanghai Noon' gets hurt by 'Gone in 60 Seconds,'" an insider speculates. "I think 'Gladiator' has better staying power."
Directed by Tom Dey, "Shanghai" stars Jackie Chan, Owen C. Wilson and Lucy Liu.
Filling out lower rungs this weekend: "Road Trip," "Frequency," "U-571" and "Center Stage."
On the limited release front: Miramax's PG-rated romantic musical comedy "Love's Labour's Lost" opens in New York and Los Angeles. Set in 1939, the Kenneth Branagh film marries Shakespeare's text to show-stopping songs by composers like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it stars Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, Alessandro Nivola and Natascha McElhone.
Sony Pictures Classics' R-rated drama about a San Francisco rave party, "Groove," arrives in New York and San Francisco.
Directed by Greg Harrison, it stars Lola Glaudini.
Paramount Classics' R-rated drama about a Hungarian Jewish family's rise and fall, "Sunshine," opens in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Istvan Szabo, it stars Ralph Fiennes and Rosemary Harris.
Looking ahead, Paramount's R-rated urban appeal action drama "Shaft," opening June 16 at 2,000-plus theaters, is already shaping up as a likely hit with a 9% overall first-choice tracking. "It's a 31% first choice for African Americans," a studio executive notes. "That's what you look at. You're looking at $25 million for an opening, just like 'Big Momma's House.'"