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Teen Movie Critic

Jamey Hughton

July 7, 1999

Jamey Hughton is a 15 yr old student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has written a weekly published column, MOVIE VIEWS for The StarPhoenix, the Saskatoon daily paper, since November, 1997. He was honoured to be a 1999 Writing Finalist in the Canadian YTV Achievement Awards.

He maintains a Web site MOVIE VIEWS by Jamey Hughton.

His reviews are now also found at: IMDb, MRQE and the Newsgroup.

Wild Wild West

Last summer, a feature-length version of The Avengers hit theaters to the tune of a unanimous critical panning. Based on the famous 60ís television show, the film was an enormous box-office flop and a huge disappointment for Warner Bros. A year later, the studio is up to their old tricks again, with the unnecessary revival of the Robert Conrad program The Wild, Wild West. But it sounded promising: the same tag-team of star Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who both contributed to make Men in Black such a financial success, is at the reins again. And co-star Kevin Kline is attached to the project, as well as a substantial budget to spice up the special effects. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is just about everything. Wild Wild West is a cinematic abomination - a film that was so entirely pointless to begin with that it is never given a proper chance to get out of the gate. There are a lot of fancy special effects, and a handful of distinguished actors who try desperately to tunnel through the inane plot and make a lasting impression. But the script is so deliriously uneven, the entire movie so off course, that no human being or technical achievement has a chance to salvage it.

At square one, we have a bizarre case of casting. Will Smith plays James West, a renegade cowboy who was originally played by white actor Robert Conrad in the TV series. My guess regarding the casting of African-American Smith is a simple one: the actor + a cozy summertime release = big bucks for all those involved. Smith is a very talented performer who usually brings swift assurance to any comic relief material, but this is not an ideal role for him. Heís too much of a joker. I heard that initial casting included George Clooney in the lead role, and frankly, that sounds a lot more plausible. What makes matters worse is that Smith goes through the role with such self-assurance in his eyes; you can practically sense his contentment with the fact that he knows Wild Wild West will be a huge hit at the summer box office.

The plot involves West and cross-dressing government agent Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), who are assigned by the President to recover a group of kidnapped scientists. The trail leads to the diabolical Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a man with no lower body who speaks in a dry, witty southern accent. Loveless has taken the countryís top technical minds hostage so that they can assist in his deranged plan of total government control, using lethal superweapons to destroy entire towns. One such weapon is an 80-foot mechanical tarantula, bearing eight spindly legs of thrashing metal and spewing enormous fireballs left and right. The visual effects that bring this metallic bug to life are spectacular, seamlessly blending computer-generated imagery with the western surroundings. Unfortunately, all of these effects seem so detached from the story, and can do little to support the filmís plot deficiencies, which are undoubtedly the main problem.

Wild Wild West is a running gag that never truly works. Most of the jokes, usually care of Smith, die on arrival. If itís one thing that could possibly be the saving grace, itís the performances, and even they are mostly off-kilter and poorly delivered. Kline is admirable, but he has little to do but invent silly devices on the spot. Salma Hayek is wasted as the romantic interest, because she is viewed as little more than that - window dressing to look pretty and create conflict between West and Gordon. Branagh, an esteemed Shakespearean actor and director, adds marginal enjoyment to the film. But even he is so utterly weird and over-the-top. Rarely is a film so lost in itself as is Wild Wild West.

I suppose thereís always one turkey of the summer season; a highly anticipated, big-budget release that manages to completely disappoint. Wild Wild West is such a movie, and will probably go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 1999. But it is highly unlikely that this will go down in defeat at the box office. Perhaps after this, audiences will be less assured when they see Will Smithís name stamped on a summer movie. After such hits as Independence Day and MiB, Wild Wild West is not an impressive addition to the resume.

My Rating = One Star

Jamey Hughton can be reached directly at movieviews@hotmail.com.
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