Welcome to PAN & SCAN where you will find film reviews of some of Hollywood's latest productions.
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|WILD WILD WEST
Starring: Will Smith & Kevin Kline
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Rating: Rated PG-13 for action violence.
Video Release: 30 November 1999
Tagline: "It's a whole new west."
It’s amazing how Hollywood can produce a product that generates $200 million in worldwide receipts and still be considered a financial flop. For most, this would have been a huge success but not so for Wild Wild West (budgeted around $170 million range). So where did it all go wrong?
The story is a simple tale. Set in the post-Civil War era, President Grant teams up a pair of quarreling special agents, James T. West (Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) to seek and apprehend one Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh). Loveless is a bitter Confederate maniac who, after losing the lower portion of his body in the war, kidnaps a group of scientists to create a super-weapon and attempts to force Grant in surrendering the newly re-United States. If the filmmakers had focused one tenth of their energy on the storyline (instead of the special effects) perhaps Wild Wild West could have been saved.
Instead, Barry Sonnenfeld gives us the perfect illustration of a summer blockbuster -- a "$1.6 million per minute" extravaganza of pure nonsense. While he may have endured much of the picture’s failing, by no means is it wholly his fault. Sonnenfield, who brought us films like Get Shorty, is just one of many along for the ride on this overpriced remake of an average 60’s TV series.
So who is to blame?
Will Smith as a black Jesse James? The real pain of watching Smith’s waste of talent in this film is -- he is not Jesse James. If the film was aspiring to say that any actor can portray any historical figure no matter their race, then fine. (Hey, John Wayne portrayed Genghis Khan.) But the relentless racial remarks only force us to focus on that fact and not allow Smith to settle down into the role. His usual "Fresh Prince" attitude of looking good and whooping ass appeared more like a poor attempt of Cleavon Little’s excellent portrayal of a black sheriff in Blazing Saddles.
How about Kevin Kline? A superb comic who grasped his role, as a gadget-happy U.S. Marshal, much better than his co-star. Unfortunately, it is his outrageous gadgets that seemed to garner more interest than the character himself.
Salma Hayek? From the previews, you would think this was a trio buddy film but no, Hayek’s role was sparse as was her attire. Hayek’s sole purpose was to show tidbits of her anatomy and provide some reason why our two stars bump heads against one another.
The great Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh? Art thou a fool? It is his farcical portrayal as the legless Dr. Loveless that makes you realize this film is not to be taken seriously. His Hitler-esque portrayal was reminiscent of the character, Adenoid Hynkel, in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and while he also possessed some unlikely nineteenth century technology, Branagh was capable of shedding his "Thou art" persona (unlike Smith’s "Yo, Word Up" representation) making his character somewhat plausible.
In any event, you can't really blame the cast. This was a talented lot that deserved a better film. Perhaps the "four" screenwriters who worked on this script forced the story into a soup of offensive clichés, hackneyed one liners, and racial slurs? Well, you can’t put full blame on them either.
So who is to blame?
The great Hollywood money making machine, which prefers style over substance, is to blame. Wild Wild West is a flagrant misuse of today’s technology and resources creating an unimpeded production, bursting with computer-generated special effects in nearly every scene. Indeed, there are a number of striking sets: Loveless' arachnid-themed mansion, henchmen hidden within living paintings, Gordon’s prop filled train, and the nifty toys both he and Loveless create. Sadly, it’s not enough though to hold this film together which features cartoonish characterizations, bumbling dialogue and a non-existent plot.
And the rating is..."2." Yes, while Wild Wild West is absurd from start to end (and a lame end at that) its something to look into when nothing else is on the tube. But don’t waste your $$ renting it.
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).