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The Independent Critic

Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jin Akanishi, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano
Carl Rinsch
Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada (Screen Story)
Rated PG-13
119 Mins.
Universal Pictures

 "47 Ronin" Brings Back Keanu Reeves. Yawn.  
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It's not hard to picture the suits that comprise the Hollywood decison-making machinery gathered around after the almost inevitable box-office failure to be called 47 Ronin and loudly proclaiming "See! We gave Asian storylines a chance and Americans didn't want to see it."

Thus, it'll be a few more years before they try again.

In fact, 47 Ronin is a rather abysmal offering to Hollywood's immensely talented Asian actors and actresses and this Americanized version of Kenji Mizoguchi's 1941 Japanese film The 47 Ronin is inferior in every conceivable way even when one considers the vast technological advancements available over 70 years later. The film is based upon a well known 18th century Japanese legend about 47 samurai who sacrifice themselves to defend the honor of their leader who was forced to commit sedduku after attacking a corrupt official. In this version, seemingly aimed much more at supposed American cinematic tastes, the warriors find themselves looking to a half-breed named Kai (Keanu Reeves), a man whom they've previously shunned yet we know, without a doubt, will be the hero who will inspire them to transcend their obstacles. While Mizoguchi's original film seemed to trust the source material, first-time feature director Carl Rinsch opts to toss in more than a few distractions such as a mysterious lizard creature that challenges the Ronin before they are deemed worthy of possessing swords and, in the film's highly, Oscar nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) as a wonderfully outrageous witch who helps to set everything in motion.

While Kikuchi brings life to the film, Reeves is more wooden than usual as the film's action and romantic lead though, as usual, he does project a solid screen presence that at least makes for a fairly compelling figure. Reeves is one of those perplexing actors, occasionally extraordinarily compelling yet more often than not exuding a detachment seldom appropriate for the role. He's not aided by Rinsch's almost reverential approach to the film and the intellectually and emotionally vacant script from co-writers Hossein Amini (Drive) and Chris Morgan (Fast and the Furious films).

The film's Asian actors, on the other hand, do add a nice spark to the film with Hiroyuki Sanada shining as the leader of the samurai and Tadanobu Asano as the evil lord whom everyone is trying to stop from marrying Mika, the daughter (Ko Shibasaki) of the now deceased Ronin's leader.

You most likely know what to expect to follow in the film, which includes the obligatory and stunningly unbelievable romance between Kai and Mika that feels about as awkward as watching Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman trying to convincingly portray being a couple in the horrendous The Stepford Wives. It should be noted that the film, which is beautifully shot by D.P. John Mathieson, has been shot in 3-D but there is quite literally nothing to justify the extra expense other than a final battle that may prove to be somewhat pleasing to hardcore action/fantasy fans. Unfortunately, by the time the two-hour film reaches that point you may find yourself already having nodded off.

Opening on Christmas Day, 47 Ronin obviously is an afterthought for Universal Pictures being released alongside a host of other far more promising and more widely advertised flicks such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Wolf of Wall Street. While fans of Keanu Reeves will likely welcome the chance to catch him up close and in 3-D, for most moviegoers death by sword may prove to be preferable than sitting through this entire production.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic