Wild Wild West

It's the end of the US Civil War. The South has been defeated and Robert E. Lee has surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline), who now is President of the USA. Right? Think again, for Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) has plans to rekindle the war and it's up to James West (Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (Kline, again) to thwart them.

Loveless' goal is to usurp a huge chunk of the US to himself. Aided by General "Bloodbath" McGrath and a quartet of femme fatales, he kidnaps Grant to coerce him to sign an agreement where the former colonies would revert back to their original owners (i.e., Britain and Spain). His means of coercion is to use a giant mechanical tarantula and a host of other gadgets that decimates towns and people.

Wild Wild West is yet another film that attempts to make the transition from the small screen to the big, and be a summer blockbuster at the same time. Unlike The Avengers it's not a complete flop but it could've been better. The movie is pretty funny at times, from the various satirical jabs (one clever one mocking the HMV ("His Master's Voice") label logo) to the jokes West and Arliss exchange about handicapped people, blacks, and rednecks (including a very cool line where West comments the nature of "red" being synonymous with passion that that plays off on what Thomas Jefferson wrote in Query XIV, Notes on the State of Virginia).

However, there are many flaws in the film: The James Bond-meets-Jules Verne mechanical devices used are imaginative and surreal, but unfortunately this fails to fit in with the campy feel the rest of the movie projects. The fight scenes are slow, partly because none of the actors seem to be very much into it and the music by Elmer Bernstein is completely inappropriate. Every time an action scene involving West and Gordon and Loveless' thugs occurs, the music slows down and the actors look tired. The Smith-Kline chemistry is close to absent. I personally liked Branagh's over-the-top (pun intended) performance, but the script isn't really written for any character in particular and so fails to connect with the audience.

As a result, the film made me laugh out a few times, especially at the beginning but began putting me to sleep at times at the end. Wild Wild West is a moderate action film worth the matinee fare, but only until the next summer blockbuster is out.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org