|legeros.com > Movie Hell > 1999 > Reviews|
This week's summer-movie shocker? That WILD WILD WEST doesn't suck *nearly* as much as expected. Warner Brothers' latest star- studded, stunt-driven, big-sets-on-bigger-budgets, cool-cats-in- cooler-threads-with-the-coolest-toys, action-comedy-franchise- wannabe is a mess, I'll Ulysses S. Grant you that, but it's also *exceptionally* funny. Call this one a comedy that just happens to have gunfights, fistfights, train chases, exploding saloons, and one 80-foot steam-powered mechanical tarantula. (It shoots fireballs, too!) Most of the mayhem is masterminded by Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a wheelchair-bound, blank-below-the-waist, half-man-in- black who wants an unconditional surrender of the United States. (Or so he says in his hammy Southern accent.) In the opposite corner are Will Smith and Kevin Kline as the good guys-- a shoot- first special agent (Smith as James West) paired by Presidential order with a violence-abhorring inventor slash master of disguise (Kline as Artemus Gordon). (Do *not* miss their discussion on the firmer points of fake breasts.) The catch-as-catch-can plot involves their tracking of a smaller fish (Ted Levine, deliciously disfigured as a Civil War vet) and how the findings upstream relate to the mysterious disappearances of the nation's top scientists. It ain't the most exciting story, mind you. Not narratively speaking. WWW is far closer to (and far more successful as) a strung-together series of skits and set pieces. Ergo, lots of stunts, lots of jokes, the occasional char- acter in drag, and a bunch of neat-o, retro, secret-agent gadgets. (Alas, no shoe phones.) The strongest chemistry is between Smith and Kline. Their comic timing is impeccable. Thank *you* Mr. Director (MEN IN BLACK's Barry Sonnenfeld) for permitting the pair so many scenes of pure comedy. (Not to mention a few scenes of pure *physical* comedy. All that's missing from a "magnetic collar" bit is a box labeled "ACME.") Racism is also addressed and in a manner so playful that even the P-est of C's may catch themselves chuckling. (Will Smith as Cleavon Little in an update of BLAZING SADDLES? I could see it...) WILD WILD WEST also looks great, with fabulous costumes and Bo Welch's enormous, expansive sets. (How 'bout those "paintings" in Loveless' office?) Best of all, I suppose, are the creepy/sexy/ slimy touches brought to the screen by ADDAMS FAMILY and ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES alumni Sonnenfeld: severed heads, scantily clad hench-women, giant phallic-shaped machines, etc. Too bad, then, that the film's biggest effect is its biggest botch. Every scene involving the giant eight-legger-- basically the entire last half- hour of the film-- is coated in a mucky, yucky, computer-induced haze. Ugh. On the scene-stealing, scenery-chewing, arch-villainy front, Mr. Shakespeare doesn't add a damn thing. (His chair, his costume, and the FX that conceal his lower half are a world more interest- ing than he.) Salma Hayek is a bit more fun, contributing some sly sex appeal as an almost love interest. She's a breath of fresh... (And watch your backdoor during the pajama party!) Ul- timately, though, it's Will Smith and Kevin Kline who carry the show. They're terrific. Better than expected and certainly each as good as the other. Bottom line on this one: it's loud, it's overactive, and, eh, I guess it's ultimately no better a piece of filmmaking than any of the BATMAN movies. But it'll make you laugh. Long, long, and often. And even though I failed to detect the original series' theme in Elmer Bernstein's barrel-chested score (grrrrr), I'll gladly tip my hat to *any* movie that can take me away from the circus. That is, any movie that makes me forget the hour suffered beforehand in radio station-sponsored hell. We thought the give- aways would never end... Grade: B- Copyright 1999 by Michael J. Legeros Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros
Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: West, Jim West.