Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Salma Hayek
Captain James West and U.S. Marshal Artemis Gordon team up in the post-Civil War West to try and stop an evil genius from taking over the United States
It’s impossible to review Wild Wild West without discussing the issue of race. Will Smith, after all, is black, and he plays a Captain in the U.S. Military right after the Civil War. My initial reaction to this is that Will Smith is horribly miscast in the role—a black man in the post Civil War time period simply would have been treated much differently than Smith’s James West is in the movie.
My second thought was that the filmmakers could have gotten away with him playing the role if they chose to completely ignore the issue of race. However, they refer to James West’s race numerous times in the story. This would be fine if there was any consistency to this application, but there isn’t. In spots where race should be a huge issue, it’s ignored; in spots where it’s convenient for the filmmakers to bring race into the story, they do. The result is a mish-mash of ambiguity, which is pretty much the way they constructed the entire movie.
Simply put, Wild Wild West is one of the sloppiest movies I’ve seen in years in terms of establishing a premise and sticking to it. At regular intervals, from start to finish, stupid things happen that make you just tilt your head and wonder if anyone actually thought about whether the events on screen would make any sense at all. These events are too numerous to list, but here’s a small sampling…
In one scene, James West and Artemis Gordon are at their train in the middle of the desert. They then go riding off on their horses. But where did the horses come from? They weren’t on the train. In another scene, James West, in costume as a belly dancer, walks right through all the villain’s guards, apparently, to get on the stage with the villain. The villain, as well, sure doesn’t seem to have many guards, and there is a spot in the movie where it makes no sense for him to flee, yet he does. The kicker, however, has to be toward the end of the film, when Artemis Gordon, in the span of a few short minutes, invents and builds an engine-powered bicycle aircraft capable of supporting two men for long periods of time and performing deft acrobatic maneuvers. Keep in mind that this is about 40 years before Kittyhawk, that the only supplies he has available are from the train, and that he gets it right the very first time. You’d have to drink at least a couple of six-packs of beer in order to suspend your disbelief enough to accept this scene. Matter of fact, this scenes is so incredibly dumb that I have to create a special category and award just to recognize it. I’ll call it “Stupidest Moments in Action Film History,” and right now, this holds the #1 spot.
There are other weak spots as well. The movie tries to be funny, but with the exception of some of Kevin Kline’s lines, it falls flat. If you’re watching the movie with any hope of recapturing some of the flavor and fun of the original television series, you’ll be sorely disappointed as well.
The film isn’t a total disaster, thanks to a few saving elements. The pace is brisk, and the movie doesn’t get stuck on any one scene. The fight scenes are well done. Special effects are rather mundane, but the giant spider is well constructed, moves well, and has some solid action scenes. Kenneth Branagh, as the villain, and Kevin Kline, as Artemis Gordon, act well in their roles. I especially enjoyed Kevin Kline’s work. For a babe factor, Salma Hayek plays a decent role in the movie. Normally this should send the babe factor sky high, but for much of the movie they cover her up in much too much clothing, and she shows little of the steaminess she displays in Desparado. Such a waste! And speaking of wastes, the villain, Dr. Arliss Loveless, has some sexy women in his entourage, but the film also overdresses them and never gives them any zippy roles. From a female perspective, I’m guessing Will Smith is fairly popular, so we’ll give the film some points in that category.
In conclusion, however, the sheer stupidity of many of the plot dynamics in Wild Wild West kill this movie. The one word that comes to mind when I reflect on it is “Dumb”, because that’s what I caught myself saying over and over while watching it.
The film was reshot several times after test audiences failed to find it funny. It didn’t help.
Consistent Premise: 8
Body Count: 46
Time to First Dead Body: Very Fast
Special Effects: 36
Overall: 28 (Annoyingly Dumb)