It’s hard to write a review for a mediocre film. Neither particularly good nor particularly bad, the lack of distinguishing features makes it hard to find a hook to hang the write-up on. Great films are easier, because the passion and enthusiasm they provoke make you want to share everything you loved about the experience. Snarky, negative reviews are the easiest because it’s just so much fun to pick terrible films apart and hold each flawed piece up for scrutiny and ridicule. But once in a while, a film comes along which is so wrongheaded it just leaves you scratching your head and wondering how in this cost conscious day and age a studio could spend $200 million and wind up with a film like “47 Ronin”.
The story of the revenge of the forty-seven Ronin took place in Japan in the early 18th Century and has since become the archetype of the samurai code of honour and one of Japan’s most enduring national legends. “47 Ronin” is a weirdly unimaginative and workmanlike telling of the sotry, with one crass addition: an ill-fitting subplot involving a witch and a mixed race orphan (Keanu Reeves). The film itself is handsome enough but there’s very little originality on show and it frequently tends towards cliché. The shoehorned in supernatural elements serve only to insult the cultural significance of the original legend, implying that there’s not sufficient drama or interest for audiences without some magic and a truckload of special effects.
Unfortunately, the studio mandated expansion of Keanu Reeves’ role and the supernatural subplot never really mesh with the main narrative and sit awkwardly alongside until an unconvincing and unearned conclusion where they cancel each other out and the legend proceeds to its end unimpeded. The cast are helpless to rescue the film and although many of them do their best to try, Reeves is very much in his all-too-frequent sleepy, disengaged mode here. To gauge just how much of a mis-sold mongrel this film is, see the creepy cool guy on the poster with the painted skull face? He’s in the film for one scene, and then only fleetingly. While the production design and special effects work is pretty good, it’s a case of style instead of substance. The finished article is muddled, uncertain and boring, bearing little direct relation to the famous story of loyalty, sacrifice, revenge and honour.
A misbegotten, mish mash of ideas and genres with a severe identity crisis, this is the most expensive worst film I’ve seen in a long, long time.