- Movie Rating -

Wild Wild West (1999)

| June 30, 1999

There is a theory about horror films that you can tell when the screenwriter has run out of ideas when the potential victim enters the house and runs up the stairs, thereby trapping themselves on the second floor. I have applied the same sort of theory to comedy: You know the screenwriter has reached deadlock when he has his characters dress in drag to evade the villains. This idea was already dead when the Three Stooges did it in the 30s.

`Wild Wild West’ uses that lame cliché and just about every other in this over-blown, over-budgeted, over-produced cinematic hemorrhoid. This is a movie that is so bad that it almost achieves a level of stupidity all of it’s own.

The movie finds Jim West (Will Smith) a post-war Federal Agent who is assigned by President Grant to find out who is kidnapping scientists. How did a black man in the 19th century get a position of authority? Beats me. His partner is Artimes Gordon (Kevin Kline) an inventor and master of disguise. He wears two disguises: President Ulysses Grant and a dancehall girl. Since he actually does play President Grant what was the point of introducing in that disguise in the first place? He creates weapons that apparently only work if the opponent stands in just the right spot.

Will Smith is woefully miscast and his subplot involving his parents is painfully serious. Wherever he goes he runs afoul of a lot of racial comments which are embarrassing, offensive and lead up to an agonizingly unfunny scene involving a lynch mob.

Smith and Kline spend a lot of the movie arguing and at one point are fitted with magnetic collars and chased around by giant flying sawblades. Naturally the villain who put them in these collars stays away and just assumes that the plan worked.

Salma Hayak gets dragged into this mess for a few moments of screen time to put some skin on the screen, stand behind the hero and then gets out of the way so we can see more special effects or more Will Smith. Hayak has a winning personality that was on display in movies like `Fools Rush In’ and `Dogma’ but is dead weight here.

My mouth was agape during much of this movie. Scene after scene marches by and every joke ends with a dull thud. A small fortune was spent to create special effects involving a giant steam powered spider that blows fire. It is unconvincing and unnecessary. I was struck by the fact that an 80 million dollar budget was spent to come up with effects that are at best average

`Wild Wild West’ is a movie built on ego. The thinking seems to have been that it was a big summer movie with a lot of expensive special effects and a familiar T.V. title that is already a brand-name. They threw in Will Smith, the star of two previous summer movies `Independence Day’ and `Men in Black’ and added Kevin Kline as a well-known actor and a good marquee name. Then they threw in Kenneth Branagah as legless villain and gives him an unconvincing southern drawl.

The screenplay seems to have been stitched together on the spot. The actors make a joke, talk about a plot point and move on. The movie also makes the mistake of using a genre (the western comedy) that reached its peak with `Blazing Saddles’. Really, are there any jokes about the old west that haven’t been worn dry? I’ll take that bean-eating scene in Mel Brooks’ movie as comment on this one.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1999) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized