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: Jackson's First Accuser May Testify
A young man who reaped millions by settling a deal with pop star Michael Jackson after a 1993 child molestation investigation may be called to testify at a grand jury examining similar charges currently leveled against the singer, Reuters reports. In an article from the Santa Barbara News-Press, which did not name sources, the prosecutors in the current molestation case against Jackson could include subpoenaing the man, who as a boy was at the center of the 1993 case, as well as employees of Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara, and other witnesses who testified in 1993.
"Buck" Gets New Meaning for Hilton
Hotel heiress Paris Hilton took a nasty spill Friday in Florida when she was thrown from a horse, Reuters reports. She was taping an episode of The Simple Life 2, a second installment to her hit reality series in which this time she and pal Nicole Richie will travel across the southern United States in an Airstream trailer. A spokesman for the TV studio told Reuters Hilton was walking around after falling off the horse, "but to err on the absolute side of caution, we made a decision to Medivac her" to a nearby hospital in Tampa, Fla. Hilton did not sustain any major injuries.
And More on Star Injuries…
Pop princess Britney Spears canceled two concert dates in Chicago and Detroit after suffering a knee injury while performing in Illinois, Reuters reports. Spears, 22, was expected to resume her to Onyx Hotel Tour in Atlanta next Tuesday and would reschedule the missed concert dates for sometime in April, the spokeswoman said.
Janssen Gets Nip/Tuck
Actress Famke Janssen, best known as a former Bond bad girl in GoldenEye and a brilliant mutant in X-Men, will join F/X's hit series Nip/Tuck in a recurring role, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She'll play a woman who becomes a "life coach," or counselor of sorts, to Joely Richardson's character, Julia McNamara, the wife of one of the two plastic surgeons who are the focal point of the series.
Duo To Take Producers Leads
Brad Oscar and Roger Bart will replace Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the hit musical The Producers, Variety reports. Lane and Broderick, who originated the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, and eventually left the show, made a limited return in December to boost the show's declining grosses. Oscar and Bart, who played Bialystock and Bloom after Lane and Broderick exited the show the first time, will reprise the roles April 6.
Role Call, Part I: Diesel Eyes Third Fast and Furious; MacLaine, Caine Join Bewitched
Universal Pictures is hoping Vin Diesel will reprise his role as Dominic Toretto for a third The Fast and the Furious. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio, which will release Diesel starrer The Chronicles of Riddick on June 11, is revving up a Fast team, hiring Chris Morgan (S.W.A.T.) to pen a script accommodating Diesel's return to the street-racing franchise. The studio says no deal is in place with the actor, just that it is "looking to bring back certain elements from the first two films." Diesel opted out of the last year's sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, which starred the original The Fast and the Furious player Paul Walker as well as Tyrese and grossed $127 million … Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine have joined the cast of Columbia Pictures Bewitched, a big-screen send-up of the hit '60s TV show, starring Nicole Kidman as kindly witch Samantha Stevens and Will Ferrell as her mortal husband, Darren. Variety reports MacLaine would play Sam's meddling mother Endora, originated by Agnes Moorehead on the TV show. Caine would star as Samantha's father, Maurice.
Role Call, Part II: Spielberg, Cruise Make War, Pitt May Buckle Up Spurs as Jesse James
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise are in cahoots to bring H.G. Wells' classic 1898 sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds to the big screen, Variety reports. The novel was immortalized by Orson Welles' Mercury Theater radio show in 1938, when a performance of it created nationwide panic when listeners didn't realize the war was fiction. In addition to the radio production, the book inspired a 1953 film starring Gene Barry and Les Tremayne. The Spielberg/Cruise production is looking at a late 2005 start date…Warner Bros. is wooing Brad Pitt to star as Jesse James in an adaptation of the Robert Hansen novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. According to Variety, the story focuses on Robert Ford as a way to tell the James legend. Ford was a member of the James gang and started out worshipping the exploits of the fastest gun in the West. He eventually became envious and figured he'd take over the gang and garner his own reputation by shooting James in the back.