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Wild Wild West (1999)
It just doesn't work
Like many of the fans of the series, I went into this thinking that it was going to be a clever homage to the series. Boy did they sucker me in. I warn you, I am giving spoilers in this, so be advised.
First of all, the pros:
1. Kevin Kline. Personally, I find him to be inspired casting. My favorite role in the series was Artemus Gordon, and I can't think of a better actor to have played him in this. (Though now that I think about it, Jeff Goldblum could have pulled it off, maybe.) Kline manages to inject some life into his poorly written character, and I enjoyed every bit of him onscreen. Gordon in the series was a partial stage actor and disguise expert, and if anyone can pull that off, Kline sure as h*ll can.
2. Kenneth Branaugh. Yes, he was over the top, yes he was a cartoon, but what a cartoon. Since it's obvious that his character is not going to pull off his sceme, I wasn't to interested in how diabolical he was. Personally, I thought he was enjoying every minute of his over-the-top role, (Though I could be misreading his look for despair) and It was quite fun to see this Shakespearian actor chewing as much scenery as possible.
3. Ted Levine and M. Emmett Walsh. Both Levine and Walsh take their forgetable roles and turn them into something we remember. Levine is always a reliable actor, and before he is shot, and in his death speech to West, manages to take a role that we have hated through most of his running time and make us feel sympathy for him. That's quite a feat. Unfortunately, He is removed from the procedings far too early. And of course, the always reliable M. Emmett Walsh. Is their any role he can't play? I'm serious. He is Hollywood's everyman, Whenever there is a supporting role that could be wasted, he always manages to make it something you remember. He even manages to steal a few moments with his role.
4. Salma Hayek as an ACTRESS. She really does everything she can. But it's not enough. It's not her fault. There's nothing in the character for her to do with. She's simply there for something to look at, and you have to feel sorry for her. I can imagine the studio's pitch now. "This will be a wondeful opportunity. You'll have a great script and a great role. The director of ID4 is attached, and so are Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Can you think of a better opportunity?" Those evil liars.
5. The train. I loved it. Most of it's features were ridiculous, but it was lovely to look at, though not as much as Salma.
1. Will Smith. Don't get me wrong, I love Will Smith as an actor, but he did to many things to make the role comical. In the series, West had a few one liners, but for the most part he was stoic, and the comedy was left up to Gordon. This made it believeable that West could fight six guys at the same time. Whereas in MIB and ID4, Smith could kick some major *ss, in this, do to all the comedy touches, he seems like he would have a problem kicking his way out of a paper sack. Another thing that ruins his performance is an (I think) unintentional move to make the role 90's hip. This is the old West in the 1860's. Not the 1990's. It just doesn't work here. And put away those ridiculous sunglasses for god's sake.
2. The gadgets. This was the most fatal blow. The original series relied on some out of place gadgets, but they were within the realm of possibility. One I remember was a recorder that West used to play back a conversation and make it appear that he was in a room while he was really scouting out a building. Even the most outlandish of inventions were usually believable and were, for the most part, modified trains, or the like. Here Sonnenfeld approaches Science fiction realms, and it is sorely out of place. Sometimes Barry, subtlety works better that going completely overboard. I can believe the bulletproof vest, but too many inventions were just ridiculous. and the whole Loveless thing. I can believe a man with his legs gone, but how does someone live without a liver? Where does the bodily waste go? Because when that happens to people in real life, it's usually fatal. Pool Balls that shoot out gas? I can believe an explosive, but GAS? There are many more, but I'm running out of space. I will say though, that some seemed to be there just to be there, and most served no purpose. Also, how does a man fall at least 4o ft. to the ground and not break something?
3. The script, or the lack of one. Let me give you a simple synopsis of what happens. They meet. They find Loveless. They lose him. They find him. They lose him. They find him. They get separated. They get together again. They fight him. They win. During this, Salma pops up.
If this appeals to you, then go for it.
4. Salma Hayek's CHARACTER. What was her point? She added absolutely nothing to the film, save for a sexual object to be fought over by West and Gordon, and the film could have been reduced by at least ten minutes if she wasn't in it. Thought I will readily admit, she is lovely to look at, and what an *ss.
5. The strained duo relationship. Seriously, how many times have we seen this? Hundreds. How many times has it worked? Very few, save for, say, "Jaws". Here, it doesn't, and the spark that made the series work is given up. I think the film would have risen above crap if they had liked each other, but not by much.
6. Kevin Kline obviously looking like he wishes he were somewhere else. Poor Kevin Kline. I feel nothing but sypathy for him. As trained as an actor as he is, sometimes his disgust is apparent, especially when they have him dressed as a woman. I can undertand his feelings. I wanted to be somewhere else too as I watched this. He really does fight for his life in this role, and thanks to that, he is one of the few, along with Branaugh, Levine, and Walsh that manages to leave the procedings relatively smelling like a rose.
I'm sorry. I wanted to like it, but I couldn't. The fact that I liked most of the above actors cannot make me reccomend this film. It reaks of a turkey that was put out strictly to cash in on those who like Smith or Kline, or who remember the series with fond memories. Unfortunately, they spent too much on the special effects, and not enough on the script. It had the potential to be something great, but if fails. Miserably. See any of the above named actors in something else. They will thank you for it. Avoid this like the plague.
* for Kline, Branaugh, Levine, and Walsh, and for Will and Salma doing their best. Not for anything else