When a lavish 3-D fantasy/action feature about legendary samurai bombs in Japan before it has even opened in the U.S., you know there's a problem.
Set in 18th-century feudal Japan, Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a half-English/half-Japanese outsider who is one of the 47 warriors who become masterless samurai, known as "ronin," after villainous Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) forces Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka) to commit seppuku and then claims the land.
Though not accepted by his fellow exiles, mystical Kai was trained in demonic sorcery and survival skills by the earless/noseless snake men in the Tengu forest who, eventually, supply the ronin with swords to avenge the dishonor to their master.
To complicate matters, lowly Kai is secretly in love with Asano's beautiful daughter Mika (Ko Shibasak), who has been promised to top-ranking warrior Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada). Heroic Oishi, Kai and their stoic cohorts must battle not only Kira's army but also menacing CGI beasts and a vampy, shape-shifting sorceress (Rinko Kikuchi), who transforms into a giant snake.
As related in the opening voice-over, the fundamental story is based on a revered historical Japanese legend about disenfranchised samurai, often referred to as "Chushingura," who avenged the death and disgrace of Lord Asano, despite orders from the ruling Shogun not to retaliate.
Formulaically scripted by Chris Morgan ("Fast and Furious 6") and Hossein Amini ("Drive," "Snow White and the Huntsman"), it's directed as a first feature by Carl Rinsch, who built his reputation with high-concept BMW and Heineken TV commercials.
Problem is: it's confusing, poorly paced and mindlessly generic, despite its reportedly bloated $175-plus million budget, which is evident in Jan Roelfs' sumptuous production design and John Mathieson's sweeping cinematography. The tragic characters are solemn, inscrutable caricatures, offering the audience little emotional investment.
Having directed "Man of Tai Chi" and starred in "The Matrix" franchise, Reeves' affection for Asian martial arts
is evident -- but enough is enough.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "47 Ronin" is a dull, faltering 4. Perhaps it's meant to be a video game.