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Wild Wild West

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Wild Wild West

Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline
Director: Barry Sonenfeld
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: June 1999
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Western, Comedy

*Also starring: Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Robert Conrad, Musetta Vander, Ted Levine

Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

Every summer has one: a film that, from early indications, appears to be a surefire blockbuster, but finds itself under a billowing cloud of bad buzz as its release date approaches. Last year, it was TriStar's _Godzilla_; this year's whipping boy has been Warner Bros.'s _Wild_Wild_West_, which arrives on screens in time for the July 4th weekend amid a flurry of talk of budget overruns and poor insider screenings. The good news: the adaptation of the 1960s television series is far from the excrutiating embarrassment the studio had last year with the similarly-conceived _The_Avengers_. The bad news: that fact doesn't necessarily make this shockingly flat comedy-adventure much better a movie.

The parts certainly appeared to be in place. Independence day box office king Will Smith and another consistently entertaining star, Kevin Kline, team up as 19th century U.S. government agents James West and Artemus Gordon, respectively, for Smith's _Men_in_Black_ director, Barry Sonnenfeld. Providing the villainy as Arliss Loveless, the wheelchair-bound, arachnid-obsessed mad genius determined to seize control of the country, is no less than multiple Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh. And as a final dash of spice, Salma Hayek is on hand to lend her sexy screen presence as lingerie-clad saloon entertainer Rita Escobar.

Oddly enough, like a botched chemical equation, these seemingly perfect ingredients combine into a fizzle. Together, live wires Smith and Kline should combust in theory. But while they do have a couple of moments of spirited repartee, their overall lukewarm rapport won't make anyone forget Smith's sterling bond with Tommy Lee Jones in _MiB_. In fact, despite his ever-magnetic screen presence, Smith is an ill fit for the part of West. He is a versatile performer able to adequately tackle both drama and comedy, but his limits are tested as a largely deadpan tough guy. Not helping matters for him or Kline are the lame one-liners foisted upon them by the four credited writers (none of whom are worth mentioning here by name). For example, following the disposal of a blade-wielding villain, West not-so-wisely cracks, "No more Mr. Knife Guy."

The other two above-the-title stars don't fare much better. The casting of Shakespearean Branagh as a legless baddie should be a hoot, but he, like Sean Connery in _The_Avengers_, strains too hard to be outrageously over-the-top that he drains the character of any sense of fun. Hayek's bubbly playfulness could have compensated--that is, if she had anything remotely resembling an actual character to play. In her scant screen time, Hayek is called on to lavish compliments on either Gordon or (especially) West, model revealing outfits, and flash her buttocks. What a progressive role for a woman.

Sonnenfeld was obviously too busy paying attention to _Wild_Wild_West_'s technical aspects to notice what was going on with his actors. The digital effects used to depict Loveless's signature machine of destruction, the Tarantula, are spectacular and blend seamlessly with the real-life footage. Bo Welch's production design imaginatively blends period Western touches with more modern innovation, particularly in West and Gordon's specially-equipped train car, the Wanderer. As lackluster as many of the lines get, other details in the production keep the film watchable.

In the end, that's all _Wild_Wild_West_ is--watchable; not necessarily awful, yet certainly not good, either. But mere watchability isn't exactly what moviegoers are looking for when buying a ticket for _Wild_Wild_West_; they want some plain old summer movie fun and excitement. Unfortunately, Smith isn't the man to give it to them--at least not this summer.

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