Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wild Wild West (1999) (Movie Review)


     I’ve been around the block with movies for years, there are many I love, some I hate, others I completely forget about, and somewhere in-between are the “guilty pleasures”. Movies that I know aren’t good, but I can’t help but enjoy them on some small level. The 1999 movie “Wild Wild West” for example is one of my biggest “guilty pleasures” of all time. It’s not a good movie, but I still enjoy it for one reason or another, well, mostly for nostalgia. Back then I was a huge fan of Will Smith and I loved his summer blockbuster movies like “Men in Black” and “Independence Day”. As a kid “Wild Wild West” was my favorite Will Smith movie that I remember watching the most. It was done by the same director and film team that made “Men in Black”, it had that same style, feel, and sense of witty action hummer, so the two never felt that different back then. However, over the years “Men in Black” as only aged better, while I’m noticing more and more of the problems with “Wild Wild West”. This movie is widely regarded as one of the worst films to be released from 1999, and is often seen on lists of worst TV adapted movies, usually taking the #1 spot. On that note, I’ve never seen the original 1965 TV series “The Wild Wild West”, so I can’t properly compare this film to that show, I can only review it on the grounds of being a standalone movie. Obviously over the years I’ve noticed how problematic the film is, why it’s gotten such a negative reputation, but is it all bad, and can I find maybe some good in it?  

       Here’s the set up, its 1869, and a former confederate soldier called Dr. Loveless is threatening President Ulysses S. Grant, stating that he’ll take over the country with a secret weapon of mass destruction, which is being built by some of Americas top scientists who had all been kidnapped by the mad doctor. With the country at stake, the president assigns two marshals to discover what this mysterious weapon is, destroy it and rescued the abducted scientists. The first agent is Jim West, a head strong cowboy who’s had a personal grudge against the evil doctor ever sense his parents were killed in a massacre that Dr. Loveless himself ordered. The second agent is Dr. Artemus Gordon, a man who specializes in creating mechanical inventions and technology. Both have trouble getting along, but their pressing situation calls for them to put aside their differences and work together before Dr. Loveless unleashes his secret weapon on the nation. In short, it’s a very recycled formula involving two polar opposites who have to unite for the greater good, but in all fairness, this was actually one of my first films I’d seen to utilize this concept. The only other movie to utilize this concept before I saw this film, at least that I can remember was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. We also have the lone hero whose out for revenge against the bad guy responsible for the death of his parents, and I think we’ve all seen that done before. However, I will give some credit where it’s due, because I love the way Jim West’s back story is revealed. He doesn’t say verbally that “this guy killed my parents, and I want him dead”, it’s actually conveyed very subtly in which we the audience can figure it out on our own, and I really like that.

     The cast is also really good, and Will Smith has never looked more awesome then he does here in his cowboy suit. In fact, whenever someone mentions Will Smith, the first thing that subconsciously comes to mind is him as Jim West. This is also the first time in which I was able to refer to him by his characters name, because in any other movie I always refer to him as just Will Smith or “the Will Smith character”. That’s not to say that his performance is any different from his other films, but his name is colorful enough to stand out. I also really like Kevin Kline as his partner Dr. Artemus Gordon. I can’t say that the two have perfect chemistry as their both working with a relatively weak script, but for what little they’ve got, their clearly putting their all into it, they have a lot of energy, and it seems that their having a genuinely fun time acting together. Obviously Will Smith would go on to say that starring in “Wild Wild West” was the worst decision he made in his carrier, as he turned down the leading role in “The Matrix” for this film, but I still think he had a lot of fun while he was making this movie, and it kind of transcends onto me while I’m watching both him and Kevin Kline in their prominent roles.

      Also, I’d like to comment that when I was a kid, I watched classic Westerns all the time with my father, and while I liked them fine, I always wanted to see something High-Tec and cool in this kind of setting. So “Wild Wild West” was actually the answer to my child hood fantasies, as it took place in a western setting, but was populated with gadgets, robotic contraptions, and lots of implausible feats of technology that obviously couldn’t have existed in the that time period. However, I do like the look and feel of the technology on display, there not overly High-Tec and have an old school steam puck look, with lots of moving gears, and contraptions. A common criticism is that the effects go way too far, but I honestly disagree. With the exception of the ending, the gadgets and effects are mostly practical, and on set with the cast. I will say that more care was obviously put into the effects then a good script, which is a noticeable problem, but the wildly inventive gizmo's give entertainment value, which for me draw a shield over the numerous flaws. Our hero’s travel on a special train called “The Wanderer”, and while the set is very good, some of the train’s booby traps admittedly look very cartoony and silly at times. I do like the verity in which we see Artemus Gordon’s crazy contraptions, and they lend to some enjoyable action. The action scenes by the way are mostly good, but nothing out of the box either.

     Now let’s talk about the absolute best thing in this movie, and that’s Kenneth Branagh as the villain called Dr. Loveless. Oh man, no other actor is having more fun chewing the scenery then him. Kenneth Branagh in general is a very talented and versatile actor, best known for his Shakespeare adapted movies, but in this movie he’s a lot of fun to watch as this cartoony evil doctor that’s aiming to take over the nation. I honestly find myself forgetting that it’s Kenneth Branagh in the role, the makeup design is great, and he just doesn’t feel like the same actor that’s so easily recognizable in other films. It’s a performance that’s deliciously hammy, with just enough subtle menace thrown in. I also love the design and concept of this character as he’s one of the few villains that’s actually bound to a wheel chair due to the loss of both his legs. The special effect on Kenneth Branagh’s missing legs is actually very convincing, and his steam punk wheel chair is a memorable design. He also has the added bonus of growing mechanical legs during a fight, which is another cool touch. Say what you will about “Wild Wild West” as a bad movie, but one thing that hasn’t changed for me is the villain Dr. Loveless, who personally is one of my favorite movie villains from the 90’s. Even his goons where kind of memorable, there’s a seductive Asian woman called Lady East, and a Confederate General named Bloodbath McGrath who has a missing ear that was replaced with a horn. 

     The only character I didn’t like in this film was this token female character played by Salma Hayek, who’s completely pointless. Now I love Salma Hayek, and have had something of a crush on her ever sense I first saw her in the movie “Desperado”. Unfortunately, her talents and beautiful looks are completely wasted in this movie. Now I typically love the token female characters, it’s one of my favorite movie clichés, but even by token female standards she does so little in this film. In fact, she could have been removed and it wouldn’t have changed anything. She doesn’t do anything useful, her relation with the other characters isn’t interesting, she causes more problems than she solves, and she doesn’t even work as a good damsel in distress stereotype. There’s a moment when she provides our hero’s with some information on where the bad guys or going, but an earlier interrogation with one of the villains could have easily filled them in on that. Also, on a small side note, Salma Hayek always looked a lot younger and smaller in this film then she did in earlier movies. For example, look at Salma Hayek in the 1996 movie “From Dusk till Dawn” which came out 3 years before “Wild Wild West”, somehow she looks like she aged six years backwards between these films, and it’s always bugged me. 

     If your still reading my review, you’re probably wondering why I’m only “now” bringing up problems in one of the most hated movies of all time. Well, to be perfectly honest, I only have one real criticism with this film, but unfortunately, it’s a really big one. The comedy in this movie ... SUCKS! Right from the start this film is trying to make the audience laugh, and it fails miserably. As the movie continues, it’s still under the impression that it’s being really funny, when in actuality, the jokes are as dry and stale as they get. The majority of this films hummer is sexual references and innuendos aimed at the mail and female anatomy. I’d call it a nit-pick, but it’s a consistent problem that lasts all throughout the movie, and it just gives this film an uneven tone, and all around stupid feel. Every single inappropriate joke imaginable is made, from exposed body parts, to puns revolving around Cowboys and their “Guns”, it just goes on, and on, and it gets to the point of insult. There’s a running joke involving our hero’s dressing up as woman, which is by far the stupidest thing in the film. What’s worse is that these scenes are not short, they drag on and bring the film to a screeching halt every time. It’s bad enough seeing both Will Smith and Kevin Kline in female attire, but what really puts the salt on the wound is everyone's reaction to them, that grown men are convinced their actually woman, and attractive ... it’s about as stupid as it gets. To be fair, there is a hand full of funny moments, and even some enjoyable one liners that keep the film from being completely laugh free.

      Other criticisms are aimed at the films bombastic, manic and over the top tone, but honestly, this didn’t bother me as much. I just know I’ve seen movies that are a lot more exhausting and over the top then this film, like the “Transformers”, “Pacific Rim” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Heck, at least “Wild Wild West” has a good run time that’s under 2 hours, unlike the recent “Lone Ranger” movie that was over 3 hours. 
Now that’s not to say that “Wild Wild West” isn’t over the top either, it certainly is, especially in the third act, but I have to admit, I actually think it’s a really fun ending. Dr. Loveless finally reveals what his secret weapon is, and ... it’s a giant, fire breathing, missal shooting, robot spider! Okay, I don’t care what the critics say, I don’t care if this thing looks like it came right out of “Star Wars”, I love this giant spider, and the long, drawn out climax is also a lot of fun. 
We have a giant robot spider trampling through an old western town, blowing the crap out of everything, our hero’s launch an assault while flying on this old-school wing glider-bike, and it honestly makes me feel like a kid again. They crash into the Spider, and our hero’s find themselves trapped in the belly of the beast where Jim West battles various fun cartoony bad guys including a guy with knives for hands, a metal headed android, and it all builds to a final showdown between West and Dr. Loveless, which is short but satisfying.  

      Oh wait, I still have more positives to highlight, and that would be the music. The instrumental score composed by the great Elmer Bernstein is actually really good. It captures the same spirit of classic adventure hero scores like John Williams “Indiana Jones” score, while still being its own thing. It’s also utilized very well in honestly one of my favorite opening credit sequences I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I think the opening credit sequence to “Wild Wild West” is on par with any classic James Bond opening. I just love the whole art style, the different colors, and film footage. It shows you who the characters are, the different vehicles, weapons, and it’s just a really fun opening. Also some of the actual songs from the film are fairly good too. The song “Bailamos” by Enriqu Iglesias is still very upbeat, and memorable. Actually, I worked at a sports authority store for years, which had a selection of repetitive songs that got really annoying to listen too, but the song “Bailamos” was one of the very few that I enjoyed hearing regularly. Of course there’s the song “Wild Wild West” performed by Will Smith himself. The song itself is decent, but the highlight is the music video that went along with it. The sets, the costumes, the visuals and some well placed cameo’s from artists like Steve Wonder and Carlton from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, makes the video a real treat to watch. It also plays like a semi sequel to the film as we watch Jim West go on an action packed adventure to rescue Salma Hayek from the sinister Dr. Loveless. It’s awesome stuff, there’s gatling guns going off, a pretty damsel in a death trap strait out of a “Saw” movie, hero’s jumping through glass, and it’s actually more epic then the movie itself.  

     So, would I call “Wild Wild West” a good movie ... NO! This isn’t a film I’d recommend to anyone really, because it is stupid, it is over the top, it does have some really bad comedy, and a stale script. However, while the film is clearly bad, I certainly don’t hate it. It had some fun adventure moments, an exciting finally, a cool Western setting with gadgets, and an enjoyable cast of scenery chewing actors. This is a film I loved when I was younger, so it’s got some nostalgia value, and it still has some things that I enjoy, but as I’ve grown up, it’s lost most of its novelty, and isn’t that re-watchable. Can’t make any argument against the films poor reception, but I really don’t think it’s one of the worst things ever made. Fans of the show should just stick with the show. Even though I haven’t watched it, I’m pretty sure this film is a pore representation of its respected source material. Definitely better movies out there that I’d recommend people watch instead, but to this day, it still remains a “guilty pleasure” of mine.

                                           I give “Wild Wild West” 2 ½ stars out of 5.  

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