47 Ronin is the disaster that everyone was expecting. That’s cool. Every holiday film season needs one big bomb to get everyone talking. The whole idea is entertainingly bad, too. “Hey,” said some executive, “there’s a Japanese legend about a group of samurai who were dispersed and then regrouped to avenge their master, and it’s a lot like 300, except we can really muddle the story by adding a token American movie star to share the lead role with an Asian actor, which’ll really dilute the impact of the story!”
That’s the movie that got made. 47 Ronin takes historical fact and throws in CGI fantasy creatures and a burdensome love story. You also get lots of irritating platitudes pretending to be Eastern philosophy to pad things out to a two-hour running time. And don’t forget dividing the focus between Keanu Reeves (as a wandering British/Japanese outsider) and Hiroyuki Sanada (playing the leader of the samurai clan). You’ll never see a weirder acting duel between two solidly wooden film stars.
We know that it’s predictable to call Keanu Reeves a wooden lead. That doesn’t change the fact that Keanu seems to be seeking out those roles lately. Remember that remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still that came out in Christmas of 2008? That’s the one where Keanu carefully maintained a monotone as an alien visitor. He’s even less animated in this one.
But, you know, maybe Keanu Reeves is really some kind of hipster genius. 47 Ronin is his second big Asian production of 2013–the first being his directorial debut with Man Of Tai Chi. That was a strangely old-fashioned movie about an amiable kung-fu disciple (well, a Tai Chi disciple) who gets involved with an underground fight club. Keanu cast himself as the movie’s villain, and made the character as dull as any action-film hack who would’ve been cast on a lower budget.
47 Ronin is the perfect companion piece to Man Of Tai Chi. They both play like movies destined for 3 am slots on the basic cable stations of 1994, waiting to be discovered by adolescents staying up all night while jacked up on Mountain Dew and taking a break from playing Mortal Kombat II.
No other major actor made such a perfect pairing of movies this year. The guy should’ve crammed in a hopping-vampire movie for a proper Asian schlock trilogy. Sadly, Keanu’s career choices are more interesting than anything in 47 Ronin. They make for a nice distraction from the plot, but that’s not how things are supposed to work.