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: Rob Lowe Joins Schwarzenegger Campaign
Action star-turned-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has tapped former The West Wing co-star Rob Lowe to join his campaign. According to Variety, the Schwarzenegger campaign said Lowe will coordinate a coalition of artists and entertainers in endorsing the candidate. "Arnold is exciting and dynamic to the Hollywood community and we're thrilled Rob has decided to bring on as many artists and entertainers to the campaign as possible," Schwarzenegger spokesperson Sean Walsh said. Plans to officially announce Lowe and other coordinators will be announced later this week. But how much does Lowe, who portrayed a White House political adviser on NBC's The West Wing, really know about real life affairs of state? The actor teamed with Jane Fonda to support a California clean water initiative in 1986 and supported then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis's failed 1988 presidential bid. In fact, it was in a hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta that year that Lowe videotaped himself in a sexual tryst with two women--one of them underage. Lowe, a longtime Democrat, joins billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz on Schwarzenegger's team.
Coleman, Carey To Enter "Debating Game"
Actor Gary Coleman and adult film star Mary Carey will take part in a gubernatorial candidate debate to be broadcast Oct. 1 on The Game Show Network, The Associated Press reports. The diminutive star and the porn actress are among 135 candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he's recalled in the Oct. 7 election. They will be among a panel of five who will appear on the show titled Who Wants To Be Governor of California? The Debating Game. According to the network, the contestant receiving the most votes in the election will receive $21,200, the maximum corporate campaign contribution allowed by California law. Three more contestants will be announced over the next two weeks, the network said.
Seabiscuit Star Thrown From Horse
Top American jockey Gary Stevens, who portrays jockey great George Woolf in the biopic Seabiscuit, was hospitalized after being thrown off his horse, Storming Home, just a few strides past the finish line in the Arlington Million in Illinois Saturday. A hospital spokesperson says Stevens's left shoulder was stepped on when he fell off of his mount but he is listed in fair condition. According to Reuters, Stevens didn't move for five minutes after the fall, but eventually sat up and moved his legs before he was carried on a stretcher and later taken to Northwest Community Hospital. Storming Home placed fourth in the race.
Ziering's Former Housekeeper Convicted of Grand Theft
Actor Ian Ziering's former housekeeper, Gloria Lopez, was convicted Friday of grand theft for stealing a pendant and other items from the former Beverly Hills, 90210 actor that had belonged to his late mother. Lopez, 48, also was also convicted of petty theft for stealing a cell phone from Ziering's friend, actor David Sheinkopf of the cable television show Design on a Dime. In testimony, Ziering said after the items disappeared he went to a friend's house where he knew Lopez also worked and found "a treasure trove" in Lopez's car. Lopez's attorney told jurors the housekeeper found the items in the trash. According to the AP, Lopez was ordered jailed without bail and faces a maximum of three years and six months in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 11.
Disney and DreamWorks Settle Release Date Scuffle
Disney and DreamWorks's battle for the Nov. 5, 2004, weekend is over, Variety reports. DreamWorks had chosen that release date for its animated shark feature Sharkslayer but when Disney and Pixar announced the release of The Incredibles that same weekend, DreamWorks backed off from the date to avoid going up against a Pixar juggernaut. Instead the studio will release Sharkslayer on Oct. 1, 2004. Next November is proving to be a busy month for animated fare: Warner Bros. will release its all-CGI pic Polar Express from Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, while Paramount is set to bow its Spongebob SquarePants feature.
Fox Sends Out Web Coupons for DVDs
Sales of 20th Century Fox's Daredevil DVD are benefiting from a fairly new technology: the printable online coupon. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox's latest monthly e-mail newsletter, which is sent out to 1 million subscribers, featured a $5 off coupon for the Ben Affleck superhero pic. Although it will be months before the studio can determine the effectiveness of the campaign, Richard Ashton, director of database marketing at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said the coupons at least leave a paper trail showing how their customers are shopping. Fox limited the number of online coupons to 50,000 and prevented exact copies of them from being made by using bar codes.
Never-Before-Released Elvis Song To Be Issued
This fall, RCA Records is putting out a never-before-released song recorded by Elvis Presley nearly 40 years ago, Reuters reports. The recently unearthed single, "I'm a Roustabout," will be issued as part of a new collection of favorites from the King of Rock 'n' Roll. The song was originally written for the 1964 Presley film Roustabout and was even recorded by Presley, but the song was rejected by producers and never used. A completely different song eventually became the title song for both the movie and the No. 1 album of the same name. Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.
R&B Songwriter Ed Townsend Dead at 74
Ed Townsend, the rhythm-and-blues songsmith who wrote the 1958 hit "For Your Love," died of a heart attack Wednesday in Sun City, Calif., at the age of 74, Reuters reports. During a career that spanned five decades, Townsend, known as ""Big Papa" by friends, penned over 200 songs. He is credited with helping to shape a string of R&B hits recorded by
Ben Affleck ("Dogma") wasn't cruisin' in a Batmobile, but the rumored Caped Crusader contender got cozy anyway with the Massachusetts justice system.
On Christmas Eve, Affleck, with ex-girlfriend-turned-just-friend Gwyneth Paltrow ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") in tow, showed up at Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington, Mass., to pay a $135 fine for driving with a suspended license. Affleck was ticketed for speeding in Lee, Mass., on Aug. 11. The 27-year-old actor was reportedly on his way to visit Paltrow, who was acting in a play at the nearby Williamstown Theater Festival.
In their joint courthouse appearance, Affleck and Paltrow posed for pictures and signed autographs, according to the New York Daily News. Affleck's lawyer, David Hoose, said yesterday that the actor had a valid California license but was unaware his license was suspended in Massachusetts, apparently because of unpaid traffic violations.
GONE A' COURTING - Rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs is free on $10,000 bail after being formally charged Monday with criminal possession of a weapon and possession of stolen property in the wake of a New York nightclub shooting that left three injured.
All potential charges, meanwhile, against Combs' girlfriend, actress/singer Jennifer Lopez ("Out of Sight"), also in hot water after the shooting, have been dropped.
A court hearing for Combs is set for Feb. 14.
Combs declared his innocence to reporters outside Manhattan Criminal Court. "I do not own a gun," he said. "I do not carry a gun. The charges and allegations against me are 100 percent false, I feel confident that in the next couple of days, I will be vindicated and everything will be all right."
Prosecutors said Combs, 30, got into an argument with other patrons at Club New York in Manhattan shortly before 3 a.m. (EST) Monday. After one patron threw money at him, Combs and Jamal Barrow, a member of his entourage, reportedly pulled out weapons, with Barrow allegedly firing. A woman was shot in the face and two men were wounded in the shoulder; all three were listed in stable condition.
Authorities say Combs sped away from the club with Lopez ("Out of Sight") -- their Jeep chased by police until it was forced off the street. The celebrity couple, Barrow and one other person were taken in for questioning.
Barrow, 21, faces charges of attempted murder and reckless endangerment.
GONE A' PLANTIN' - Sylvester Stallone has a new hobby while waiting for those "Rambo" sequels to take form: gardening.
Stallone has agreed to replant the hundreds of trees and bushes unlawfully cut down on his Miami property by staff members. (Apparently city officials there need to pre-approve trimming plans.)
The action-star's lawyer said Stallone "had no knowledge that the trees had been taken down," according to the Hollywood Reporter. The cost to replace the scrubbed shrubbery has been estimated at between $200,000-$500,000 by nursery owners.
JUST GONE - Singer Dave Matthews ("Crash") will have to wait a while longer to make his feature film debut. Production on a remake of the nature drama "Where the Red Fern Grows," featuring the rocker, has been halted until next month due to financial difficulties.
The $3-$3.5 million film, co-starring Ned Beatty, Dabney Coleman and Mac Davis, ran up debts of almost $700,000, according to the Hollywood Reporter, leaving producers unable to finish the project.
Matthews, who fronts the Dave Matthews Band, recently released "Listener Supported," a double-CD live album.