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.
Mary-Kate's not dropping out of NYU, she says
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's freshman year at New York University is being so vigilantly dissected by the media that the diminutive millionaires can't buy a $2.50 cup of Tasty D-Lite soft-serve in the city without it making front page news. So it comes as no surprise that Mary-Kate's recent hiatus in Los Angeles is sparking rumors the brunette has not only dropped out of college, but also relapsed into an eating disorder. "She just got out of recovery when she came to New York," US Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min said on NBC's Today show. "For anyone who has been to college, the freshman year is stressful, and when you are Mary-Kate Olsen and having the whole world watch your behavior and what you eat was too much." Mary-Kate's publicist, Michael Pagnotta, said in a statement Tuesday that Mary-Kate is in L.A. on personal business and is expected to return to New York and to school shortly, but denied reports the 18-year-old actress had suffered a setback. "Somehow there's a suggestion that she has relapsed into an eating disorder. That's just silly. She's in ongoing treatment for an eating disorder with an experienced team of professionals who are available to her on both coasts," he said. "She is working very hard at being well."
New charges filed against O'Reilly
A Fox News Channel producer filed new accusations Tuesday against O'Reilly Factor host Bill O'Reilly, claiming she has lost her job because she complained to the network about her alleged mistreatment, The Associated Press reports. According to court papers, Andrea Mackris, 33, told top executives about the alleged harassment by Sept. 29 and was told to call in sick while they investigated her complaint. But Mackris claims Fox officials have not discussed her job status since she met with Fox lawyers Oct. 5. A lawyer for O'Reilly and Fox denied Mackris has been fired or retaliated against in any way. Last week, O'Reilly filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against Mackris and her lawyer, alleging they threatened him with a high profile sexual harassment case unless he and the network shelled out $60 million in "hush money." But Benedict Morelli, the lawyer named as a defendant in O'Reilly's case, turned around and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News and O'Reilly on behalf of Mackris.
Growing Pains star pleads not guilty to drunk driving charges
Former Growing Pains star Tracey Gold pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges she was driving drunk when her sport utility vehicle overturned in Ventura, Calif., on September 3. Tracey Gold Marshall, 35, did not speak as her attorney entered the pleas on her behalf to three felony counts, the AP reports. She is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol causing bodily injury, driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 causing injury and felony child endangerment. Although Marshall wasn't hurt when the SUV flipped on a highway in Moorpark just before midnight and rolled down an embankment, her 39-year-old husband, Roby Marshall, injured his neck and their 7-year-old son suffered a broken collarbone and a cut above his eye. The couple's two other sons, a 5-year-old and 4-month-old, who were also in the SUV but were not hurt. Her lawyer declined to discuss details of the incident.
Private service for Reeve to be held at Julliard
Christopher Reeve's family will hold a private memorial service for the actor Oct. 29 at the Juilliard School in New York, where the Superman star studied drama, according to a statement posted Tuesday on his paralysis foundation's Web site. About 900 guests are expected at the event. Reeve, who was left a quadriplegic after a May 1995 horse riding accident, died Oct. 10 after complications from an infection caused by a bed sore. He was 52. Reeve's wife, Dana, posted a letter on the Web site expressing gratitude for the support the family has received. "We are moved by and sincerely grateful for all these gestures--large and small--for they do make a difference," she said in the letter.
Trump's moving ahead with Apprentice 3
As the wannabe moguls continue to duke it out on season two of NBC's hit realty show The Apprentice, host Donald Trump has confirmed the third installment of his hit reality series has already starting filming. "It's going very well," Trump told the AP yesterday. "It's a great group."
Godzilla will get Walk of Fame star
And why shouldn't he? It's been 50 years since the genetically altered dinosaur rose out of the sea to wreak havoc on the hapless Japanese, and the fire-breathing movie monster has certainly put in his dues as part of Hollywood monster royalty. The ceremony to honor the giant lizard will be held Nov. 29 to coincide with the world premiere of Godzilla Final Wars, the 28th Godzilla movie at Hollywood Boulevard's famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the AP reports.
Broadcaster will air only part of anti-Kerry docu
The Sinclair Broadcast Group said Tuesday it will only air part of a documentary critical of John Kerry because of pressure from critics demanding the broadcast be canceled altogether--or face legal action, Reuters reports. Sinclair said last week it planned to show the entire 42-minute documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, made by Vietnam veteran and former journalist Carlton Sherwood, which chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and accuses the senator of betraying fellow Vietnam vets. But the Democratic Party filed a complaint against Sinclair with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the broadcasting company was acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news outlet. Sinclair operates in 39 markets that include Florida and Ohio.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.