Wild Wild West
Reviewed by Nicholas D'Amico
Rating: 10 Beans
nce again, I ask myself: When am I going to LEARN?????? I just finished watching, on DVD, no less, WILD WILD WEST. Now, when I was a kid, The Wild Wild West was one of my favorite TV shows. All those bizarre villains, their beautiful, sexy, dangerous female sidekicks, wild gadgets, a hero that wasn't afraid to fight dirty, disguises… everything a boy could want to see.
Of course, when I heard that a movie version was being made, I thought, great, here we go again, they're going to completely screw up another one of my favorite shows. Then I heard Barry Sonnenfeld was slated to direct, and I bucked up a bit. I figured, well, he did a fair job on The Addams Family, maybe, just perhaps, this may be worth seeing.
I have nothing against Will Smith. I like Will Smith. I thought he was great in MEN IN BLACK, I thought he was one of the few good things in INDEPENDENCE DAY. But as James West?! More than anything else, let's consider this: THE WILD WILD WEST, just by the nature of the show, stretched credibility to the breaking point as it was, what with the hydraulic mechanisms and the various reeling things that Jim used to pull himself out of various messes since it did take place in 1869. Right after the Civil War, mind you. Now I'm being asked to believe a black man as a U.S. Marshall that can come and go as easy as you please wherever he wants, can crash a costume party in the deep south without being noticed and gets away with beating and/or killing white men. I've got news for you: in the South, up until sometime in the early-to-mid sixties, a black man literally couldn't inadvertently bump into a white woman on a train platform without getting lynched. I can suspend my sense of disbelief better than most people, but this was asking too much. Add to that the fact that the movie just plain sucked the high hard one, and you have a complete and total waste of time on a 4 1/2" disc.
The movie starts with a man wearing a strange metal collar running around the grounds of an estate.. He's being chased by what looks like a flying table saw blade which is following him no matter where he goes, cutting through trees and anything else in its path. It finally catches up with him and cuts his head off. A grizzled-looking guy in a confederate uniform, General McGrath (Ted Levine) bends over the decapitated head, says, "And they say you scientists are supposed to be smart," chuckles, and takes the blade away.
After the credits, we go to Morgan, West Virginia and meet United States Army Captain Jim West (Will Smith), who's busy having it off with some woman in the water tower when the bad guys arrive and knock it down while throwing cases of nitroglycerin onto a buckboard. West ends up dumped right in front of them naked, beats all three of them while dispensing wisecracks, and comes out on top.
Across town at Fat Can Candy's Gentleman's Club, we meet Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kevin Branaugh) and his female assistants, as well as Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), who's disguised as a whore. If you find men in drag hysterically funny, you'll love this scene. If, like me, you don't, it'll seem to go on forever. Another thing we discover is that the singer performing, Rita Escobar (Salma Hyek) can't sing worth a damn. She looks pretty good in a corset, however.
After a not exciting scene with West struggling to get control of the runaway buckboard full of nitro, we get to see McGrath checking out a line of the most nasty-looking whores you've ever seen, bypassing Hyek and ending up with Gordon. After yet another shitty song, the two of them retire to a room and we see the first of a series of silly gadgets as Gordon hypnotizes McGrath and, as he's about to spill what's going on, West busts through the window and he and Gordon have the first in a series of unfunny confrontations that last through most of the film. After this, Dr. Loveless gives the wagon full of nitro a ghost ride into the whorehouse.
West then goes to the White House to meet President Grant (also Kevin Kline) and the usual "outsmart the stupid Secret Service guys" scene takes place as West just walks right into the White House without so much as flashing a badge. Monster laffs are had again as President Grant is revealed to be Artemus in disguise, thereby showing us how brilliant he is at looking like Kevin Kline in a beard. Of course West and Gordon are ordered to team up despite their obvious dislike of each other. They take off, West by horse and Gordon by motorized bicycle.
On the train, which is loaded with traps that look like a cross between the BATMAN TV show and one of the more gimmick-laden James Bond movies, West and Gordon decide to work together and they examine the head of the man who was decapitated at the beginning of the move. As Gordon explains who it is and then demonstrates the last thing the man saw by shining a light through the back of his head, West says, "That… is a man's… head." four times. It is not funny the first time he says it, and gets unfunnier as he repeats it.
After finding out that Dr. Loveless is having a costume ball and going through yet another unfunny exchange concerning the fake breasts Gordon uses when he dresses as a woman, the two of them have no problem gaining admittance to the party and no one notices (in a room full of Southern ex-soldiers and former slave owners) that Jim West, a black man, is there. After Loveless makes his entrance (and Kenneth Branaugh shows his complete inability to do a convincing Southern accent), he confronts West and, after exchanging lame cripple/slave jokes, he sends him off with one of his henchwomen to ostensibly get laid but actually be assassinated. Of course, West sees right through this and kills the henchwoman and six henchman, yet no one at the party seems to hear all the gunplay, It's probably because the string quartet is playing too loud.
West then joins the party and starts dancing with a woman he has mistaken for Gordon in drag. He then insults her and slaps her breasts, whereupon the others in the room finally notice his presence. Gordon, disguised as a Cajun trapper, produces a hanging rope out of nowhere and yells, "STRING HIM UP!!!"
Now, never mind that West is taken out and not only very civilly set up to be hanged, but given the chance to make a speech in which he insults everyone at the party and the South itself which the gathered "rednecks" are too stupid to understand. Never mind that and think about this: at that time, if a black man even LOOKED at a white woman, much less danced, insulted, or touched her breasts in private or public, he would have been beaten, shot and hung in (pardon the expression) jig time.
Alright, enough of beating that horse. After escaping, they go back to the train burdened with Rita who stupidly manages to get them captured. When they come to, they find themselves in the metal collars the guy at the beginning of the movie was wearing. Loveless then informs them of exactly what he plans to do, thus fulfilling the Mad Scientist bylaws.
After escaping the collars (believe me, it's not worth explaining), they find their train, which Loveless had stolen. They then see Loveless go by in his eighty foot mechanical tarantula, which is actually a pretty impressive piece of CGI, as have been most of the contraptions in the movie. At least West doesn't say "That's an eighty foot mechanical Tarantula" four times.
After West and Gordon arm themselves and take off for Promintory Point, where Loveless is meeting up with President Grant, Sonnenfeld makes up for missing the last opportunity to repeat something by having the Golden Spike (which Grant was to drive into the ground to commemorate the joining of the east and west coasts by the railroad) pop out of the ground 3 times. Ah, stop, you're killing me.
Loveless captures both Grant and Gordon disguised as Grant and West ends up getting shot at close range by one of Loveless's ladies. Not to worry, though, as he's wearing a bullet-proof vest made by Gordon.
Loveless then reveals his grand scheme to divide the United States up and give parts back to Great Britain, Spain, Mexico, and France while keeping most of the Louisiana Purchase for himself. Since Grant refuses to sign the treaty to surrender, Loveless prepares to shoot Gordon. Just as he's about to do us all a favor, in comes West disguised as a belly dancer. The completely bamboozled Loveless falls for it and we are then treated to the sight of Will Smith doing a belly dance and Kenneth Branaugh drooling all over him. After his fake breasts turn into flame throwers and everyone except Grant escapes (??????), the bad guys go joyriding in the tarantula and blow up a town. West and Gordon swoop down in a flying machine the latter came up with at the last moment and get captured instantly.
West is then forced to fight four of Loveless' weird henchmen (one with big stillettos for hands, one with a huge wrench and a spike all the way through his head, one with a shovel and one with a steel head) and defeats them all after another not exciting fight. I still don't know what the hell he did to defeat the last guy, even after watching it four times.
Rather than inflict on you and myself to the rest of this piece of shit, let me wrap up by saying that the good guys win and the bad guys die, Rita gets united with her scientist husband, and West and Gordon end up as agents #1 and #2 in the newly founded Secret Service.
The DVD includes supplemental stuff like a director's commentary in which Barry Sonnenfeld tries to convince you that what you're watching is good and explains that all of the drag scenes were producer Jon Peter's idea. As Peters is a former hairdresser, this actually makes sense. It also includes the "HBO First Look" at the film and wardrobe, gadgets used by the good guys, Loveless' ladies, and gadgets used by the bad guys. Again, everyone tries to convince you that the movie you just got sick over was great. All it convinced me of was that there was a tremendous amount of talent and money wasted on this project.
Just one big loser of a film.
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