Wild Wild West

Wild Wild West. Warner Bros. Et al. 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I promised a Leslie Nielsen film this week, but the library didn’t come through for me yet, so here’s this. I’ll see Spy Hard when I can get it.

I’ve been told this is not a good film. Moreover, that it only did as well as it did at the box office because of underage teens sneaking into the South Park movie. It has Will Smith, action, humor, and steam-powered mechs in the Old West, so it can’t be so very disappointing as all that.

After watching the movie:

U.S. Army Captain James West (Will Smith) is monitoring the activities of a band of ex-Confederate soldiers who seem to be plotting some sort of terrorist strike. As he attempts to capture their leader, he interrupts U.S. Marshal Artemis Gordon’s (Kevin Kline) attempt to hypnotize information out of the general. Recalled to Washington, West and Gordon are assigned by President Grant to work together to find the world’s missing scientists, who have been kidnapped by Dr. Arliss Loveless, a double-amputee ex-Confederate who is using them to build a steam-powered tank. At the announcement party thrown by Loveless, West and Gordon pick up Rita Escobar, who tells them that she is trying to rescue her father Professor Escobar. Setting off in their presidentially-assigned gadget-filled train, the three pursue Loveless, who is on his way to kidnap President Grant and force him to surrender the United States to himself and several prominent nations… by threatening to level cities with a giant mechanical spider.

I’m not sure if any of the leading men are right for this movie. They do a gallant job of trying to address why a black man has so much authority and skill in 1869, but it’s really just a handwave to let them cast Will Smith, and all the racial references that follow just stick out as a reminder that this isn’t right. Kevin Kline is a fun actor, but his Gordon is not quite geeky and not quite as smart as everyone says. He’s a bumbler, but he’s not an absentminded genius. On the other hand, he also plays President Grant, who is just awesome, but not the Kevin Kline style.  Kenneth Branaugh chews the scenery with his terrible Southern accent, but the longer he was on screen, the less I enjoyed him.

You can’t take a period movie too seriously when it has a giant steam-powered spider-tank, but it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously at times. I went into this expecting Shanghai Noon with less martial arts and more gadgetry, and found it more serious, yet less weighty. The third act stops being funny (except for a scene where West disguises himself as a belly dancer, which was at least an attempt at being funny) and goes into blow-stuff-up mode.

I guess I had fun watching this. It was more enjoyable than I’ve been told, but less than I hoped. I read a little about the TV series this was allegedly based on, which sounds more interesting than this movie. Not even Will Smith’s end title rap lived up to my expectations.


Watch this movie: With extra butter in your popcorn and extra gin in your coke.

Don’t watch this movie: if you’re going to be the one who screams that Grant wasn’t present at the Transcontinental Railroad joining ceremony.

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