As the old adage goes, you can't polish a turd. But you can sprinkle plenty of CGI and countless close-ups of Keanu Reeves looking morose onto it. Not that it matters in the case of 47 Ronin, an unfathomably botched attempt to translate the classic Japanese folktale into a Hollywood blockbuster.
Carl Rinsch's directorial debut finally limps onto screens almost three years after filming began, amidst stories of a turbulent production, a spiralling budget and editing room lockouts. Similar issues didn't prevent World War Z from impressing audiences, as the central story was conveyed in a fairly engaging manner, despite occasional unevenness.
Contrastingly, 47 Ronin is a model of consistency. It's unfailingly atrocious from start to finish. A turgid backstory is vomited onto the screen in a chaotic and cluttered opening, with a voiceover imploring us to feel sympathy for Keanu Reeves's character Kai. He's a nondescript chap, exiled from society, who joins forces with a large group of samurai to avenge the death of their benevolent master by confronting a treacherous warlord.
An ill-fated attempt at a love story between Kai and a noble lady barely registers, consisting of endless empty glances being exchanged before predictably turning into a tired 'damsel in distress' scenario shoehorned into the plot just to give Kai some vague sense of purpose. Rinko Kikuchi's shapeshifting witch also lacks coherent motivation, swirling around the narrative being evil just for the sake of it. What on earth drives these characters? By the end of the movie we still don't know. Or care.
Numerous showdowns between various characters are painfully contrived in order to give viewers an occasional set piece to break up the monotony of stilted dialogue and vacuous glances between the characters. There's lavish set design and fluid camerawork during these sequences, but both are overshadowed by the abject absence of jeopardy.
Frequent overhead swooping shots of the samurai travelling on horseback and computer-generated villages seek to give the movie a sweeping epic feel, but it's utterly superfluous as we're given no reason to care about the fates of the characters. They could have substituted LEGO men for the protagonists without any change in the levels of pathos generated. Even the attempted emotional payoff at the end, which must have looked a brave and shocking finale on paper, makes no impact. By that stage, every single frame of celluloid serves as an obstruction to escaping from the cinema.
As for the inclusion of 3D, it certainly does add an extra dimension - but only in terms of the extent of screwing over moviegoers. Firstly, it's your time witnessing it; secondly, it's your sanity as you battle to preserve it; thirdly, it's the additional cost incurred by paying extra for 3D just for a couple of shots involving CGI beasts hurtling towards the camera. You can take off your glasses for much of the movie anyway (we tried) with no blurring or aesthetic difference other than a less murky picture.
It's not fair to blame Keanu Reeves for the dismal failure of this movie, despite his presence being the main focal point. After all, the script comes courtesy of screenwriters Hossein Amini (Drive, The Wings Of The Dove) and Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious 6, Wanted) - surely a combination who could have imbued the story with a mix of intrigue and thrills.
A small degree of pleasure can be extracted from the movie when Kai inexplicably undergoes a personality transplant midway through and turns into a dominant swashbuckler, having previously been a thoroughly submissive figure who evoked the passive receptionist Carol from sitcom The Brittas Empire. There's also an incomprehensible shift in terms of which character's perspective we witness the story unfold from, with samurai leader Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) being given the reins once Kai disappears for a large chunk of the narrative.
The central theme of 47 Ronin is one of sacrifice. After sitting through this disaster, you'll feel as if you've sacrificed plenty but without any reward.