It’s Keanu and a sword. What else is there to know?
In 18th century Japan, lowly half-blood Kai (Keanu Reeves) sits outside of his village looking in. Nobody respects him, nor cares for him. He’s just there to clean-up messes that are made and to get on with the rest of the society. However, one day, his master is murdered by a rival clan that is looking to expand his empire, which leaves Kai and fellow other samurai’s without much of anywhere to go. Some have died, some have hidden and some, well, mainly one, Kuranosuke Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), have been locked away from society a whole year, only to be brought back into a world that’s changed a lot since imprisonment. Oishi doesn’t like all of this change and realizes that it’s time to get the old gang back together, even if that means tracking down Kai and bringing him along. Well, it’s a smart move on Oishi’s part as Kai is now a very-skilled fighter, and also, just so happens to know who this evil clan-leader is, and where he’s located. Altogether, Kai, Oishi and the rest of the samurai’s set out for revenge, even if that revenge does mean death, regardless of whether it’s successful or not. Is it at all worth it? Well, the honor-system of the Ronin says so, so they must!
A samurai movie starring Keanu Reeves being released on Christmas: How do you think it’s going to do? Well, for starters, the movie will most likely bomb, bomb, bomb itself away into an oblivion, but that doesn’t get in the way of me at least enjoying a little B-movie fun, right?
Nope, not at all. But do you know what does? Something dull, lifeless and as Americanized as this. And yet, I didn’t hate it. Here’s why:
The problem that most seem to be having with this movie is that it doesn’t take itself as nutty as it should. Those people are absolutely right, but when the movie does actually show some signs of rare-craziness, it’s a whole bunch of fun and makes you wonder what the movie would be like if it was rated-R, rather than the soft, rather safe PG-13. There’s slivering CGI dragons; telepathic monks that have the ability to move at-a-mile-a-second; some huge, gargoyle-looking beast; and a seven-foot-tall-plus samurai warrior draped in all sorts of iron that knows a thing or two about a wrecking ball. Need I say more about this movie’s strangeness? I think not, and in those very rare moments the movie accepts what it is, it’s a whole bunch of fun, even if you don’t see it in 3-D.
That’s why when the movie does seem to take itself so damn seriously, and try to throw a historical-lesson on us, it feels like a wasted-opportunity of something really wacky and over-the-top. Rather than giving us a samurai movie in which Keanu is running all-over-the-place, saying dumb things, and hacking up every person he meets, we just see him show up, speak about “The Way of the Ronin” and then leave, ultimately letting others steal the spotlight from him. I’m not totally against this approach, considering that this is a Japanese-set movie about something that actually did happen with real-life, actual people of Japanese-decent, but it sucks so much fun out of what could have been. And by “what could have been”, I mean something that could have really been just all-out, balls-crazy in its own-self. But somehow, through someway, first-time director Carl Rinsch plays it relatively easy and never knowing whether he wants to be goofy, epic, action-y, loud, proud, philosophical, or all of the above.
It’s a strange mixture that never quite figures itself out. Maybe that’s why I didn’t hate it as much since there was always something odd the movie was doing next. I mean, for lord’s sake, I actually didn’t mind something as plain and simple as R.I.P.D., so you definitely know that this wasn’t going to be a total dread for me to watch. It just wasn’t, as expected, anything special or anything that I’ll remember ten, twenty, thirty, hell, even fifty years from now. However, do you know what I will remember? A Keanu Reeves-starring samurai flick that may have not been perfect, or even all that memorable, but I still had a painless time with. That so rarely often happens to me with a flick, and it happened to me here, so I have to say: I’m feeling alright, and that’s good enough for me.
As for all of you out there, if you want to see this, then I say go for it. Just don’t expect it to be like those old-school, kung-fu movies from the 70’s in which a bunch of people yelp, scream and chop each other’s heads off with a bunch of blood spurting out everywhere. Just expect something as odd and as weird that only Keanu Reeves would actually do, and there you go. You got your movie!
Speaking of Keanu, as much as he tries here, he feels terribly out-of-place. Which, yes, makes sense considering that he’s a half-breed of an British man and a Japanese woman. But I mean it more so in the way that he literally feels like he’s in another movie where everyone is placed into this ancient-war epic, and then, out of nowhere, Keanu seems to stumble upon the wrong set, mumbling whatever nonsense he has to say, and then walking off, letting whomever it was that was doing their job, continue to do so, without anymore interruptions at all. And, with this talented, Japanese-cast, it’s not all that bad; even if it is a bit strange that this is a historical-story set in Japan, featuring mainly all Japanese actors, and has them all speak English, with barely any subtitles involved. It’s strange to watch and in ways, very distracting considering you may be wondering what the hell it is that some people are saying at times, but the cast do what they can with what they’re given, especially Keanu. Poor, poor Keanu. The guy can kick ass like anybody’s favorite weirdo superhero, but here, he just feels odd. That’s more of the movie’s problem then his own, so I won’t be so mean to him. Because we all know what Keanu looks like when people get him all upset and bothered. Poor buddy.
Also, be on the lookout for a Gedde Watanabe sighting! Or, better yet, be on the lookout for a “Long Duk Dong” sighting!
Consensus: May not be the movie you’ll remember come next year, or any year for that matter, 47 Ronin is still passable enough as a piece of fluff entertainment that gives its core-audience enough sword-wielding fun and action, with some other neat treats in between, that’s fine for what it is, even if it could have been so, so, so much more had it played itself a little less seriously.
5 / 10 = Rental!!