moviebuff801: Time Capsule Reviews: Wild Wild West (1999)

Posted: August 16, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 30th, 1999

Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Written by: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek

There’s a pretty well-known saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Well, I have a new saying, one that applies more to Hollywood than anything else: “If it doesn’t need a remake, then why bother?”  Though, admittedly, I realize that’ll just fall on deaf ears.

The 1999 remake of the TV show Wild Wild West has earned a notorious reputation for being not just one of the worst TV remakes ever made, but also perhaps one of the worst movies ever made, period.  And … I’m inclined to agree.  There are so many things absolutely wrong with this movie, that after a certain point, it leaves you wondering whether this was an actual attempt to make a serviceable movie or just an exercise by director Barry Sonnenfeld and company in just how much crap a movie can get away with.  It’s not so much that Wild Wild West ever tries to be a good movie; it’s that it refuses to be a good movie.

Oh, so many problems, and where do I begin?  Well, let’s try the plot.  The movie is set in 1869 and stars Will Smith as James West, a black Army Captain working as a government agent.  I repeat: it’s set in 1869 and stars Will Smith as a black Army Captain working as a government agent.  That would be Strike One.  Captain West is soon teamed with Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), another government agent who is also a master of disguise, as we discover when we first see him posing as a red-haired woman prostitute, where he’s attempting to “seduce” General “Bloodbath” McGrath (Ted Levine), a man whom West is tracking as well.  Kevin Kline’s character introduced via atrocious drag … yup, that’d be Strike Two.  West and Gordon have been paired together by President Ulysses S. Grant himself (also played by Kline) so that they can find the man whom McGrath works for: a bitter ex-Confederate scientist, Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), who rides around in a mechanized wheelchair due to the loss of the lower half of his body.  Loveless’s plan is to create a “Dis-United” States of America, leading the way on a giant mechanical spider (as is the trend with any anarchist worth their salt).  If only our heroes could stop bickering over the affections of the sexy daughter (Salma Hayek) of a kidnapped scientist and other issues, like how genuine a fake breast feels.  Oh, and if you couldn’t guess, just such an argument would be Strike Three, and by that point, we still haven’t reached the half-hour mark.

Okay, I mentioned earlier that Will Smith is playing a government agent in 1869.  Yeah, so apart from the obvious excuse that he was cast in the role purely as a money ploy, how did anybody involved with the production or working at Warner Bros. at the time think that was actually a good idea?  Seriously, if a black man was working as a government agent at the time – no, wait – a black man would NEVER be a government agent at the time, certainly not in the Wild West, and if he was, he’d most likely be gunned down within five minutes of getting the job.  I don’t care how bankable a star Will Smith is; CAST A MOVIE LIKE THIS ACCORDINGLY.

Now, if you think about it, an interesting movie could potentially be made from the setup of there being a black government agent in a time where racism was dominant.  But, no, this script (and in the end, all of this movie’s problems come back to its script) is solely interested in exploiting this scenario for jokes, rather than explore it in any way that could be approaching intriguing.

This brings me to another point: that this movie seems to think it’s funny to remind us every five minutes that, hey, Will Smith is black!  As if we didn’t notice.  The one-liners in this movie are so bad, I half-expected a rim shot to be incorporated into the soundtrack after every one.  But on the subject of Will Smith’s character, he never goes through any growth during the film.  He’s an asshole at the beginning of the film, and he’s still an asshole by the end of the film.  Our hero, James West, ladies and gentlemen: he has a massive ego, seems to have a low opinion of women and insults handicaps.  Also, West never really attempts to establish an actual relationship with Gordon, instead, he just constantly mocks the guy for not being as trigger-happy as he himself is, as well as for being an eccentric inventor.  Could this be a subtle form of penis envy?  Or am I just giving these screenwriters too much credit?

And speaking of the partnership between West and Gordon, another big part of why the comedy fails is because both men are playing the straight guy.  Usually with buddy comedies, one of the characters is straight-laced and no-nonsense and the other is the wise-cracking loose cannon.  While West shows aspects of the latter, he’s still very much a no-nonsense kind of guy.  So, the partnership just feels flat and pointless.  This is a buddy movie that forgets to use the buddy system.  And speaking of badly-written characters, there’s really no reason for Rita, Salma Hayek’s character, to be in the movie.  She literally contributes NOTHING to the plot, other than to temporarily bring the good guys’ mission to a grinding halt.  Thanks for the help, there, Rita.  As for you, Kenneth Branagh … you’re above playing a racist, bigoted and obnoxious villain.  At least, I thought you were.

Is there anything good about Wild Wild West?  Well, the great Elmer Bernstein does provide a good score, one that isn’t deserving of a movie this terrible, there’s one joke that works and the special effects have their moments.  But at the end of the day, there’s no hope for a movie that treats women as sex dolls, features a scene where Will Smith dresses up like an exotic dancer who makes bird noises and has the villain spend the Third Act riding around on a giant mechanical spider for no reason.

I mean, to be any more worse, this movie would have to have a scene where Will Smith tries to kick a man who has actual balls of steel.  Oh, wait, this movie does have that scene.  Well, how about a scene where Will Smith drums on a white woman’s breasts at a redneck party – damn it, this movie has that, too.

Maybe it’s better to quit while I’m ahead.

*/****

Comments
  1. Nice scathing review. :D I haven’t seen this film; I refused to watch it on general principle. But it’s nice to see its actual faults laid out.

  2. […] Finally, MovieBuff801 takes a look back, back to the days of the wild west… or at least to the days of Wild Wild West. […]

  3. brikhaus says:

    Hilarious review! I’ve hated this movie for a long time, what a piece of crap.

  4. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. Yeah, this is actually a review I wanted to write for quite some time, and even though the movie is atrocious, the review was so much fun to write.

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