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Thirteen Assassins

"It's a modern Seven Samurai," was my former boss's synopsis of Takashi Miike's 2010 movie 13 Assassins. "And if they had one more assassin, it would be double!" as my daughter observed.

13 Assassins tries hard. Its imagery is stark, its historical atmosphere powerfully realistic. Its plot, however, is distractingly full of holes, its characters distressingly formulaic. The first hour of the film sets the stage: a Titus-Andronicus-like sociopath leader who must be stopped, and a crew of traditional samurai who are hired to attempt the almost-impossible mission. They're joined en route by the obligatory plucky comic relief.

The second half of the film is where the blade hits the neck, as honorable assassins lure their über-evil victim and his henchmen into a booby-trapped town where predictably violent mayhem ensues. Although they launch arrows from above and detonate explosives from below to begin the battle, the good guys irrationally discard those tools and instead leap down to engage in hand-to-hand swordplay. Fighting is brilliantly choreographed, but viewer suspension of disbelief suffers almost as much as the characters do. Akira Kurosawa did it better in 1954 — 13 Assassins is a shaky shadow of 7 Samurai, fun to watch but far from timeless.

^z - 2011-08-14