Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wild Wild West

I have reviewed the entire run of The Wild Wild West series at Eye of Polyphemus. It is one of my childhood favorites. It seems only fair to review this travesty of a film adaptation for the sake of thoroughness. Whether you like the original series, if you enjoy this movie, I probably do not like you as a person.

The plot revolves around army capt. Jim West (Will Smith), a black man in 1869 who has managed to become a top secret agent for Pres. Ulysses S. Grant even though he is so incredibly reckless, Grant does nothing but trash him. Rightfully so. West is the first in a string of unlikable characters we are going to meet. Grant must have been drunk when he hired the guy. West is assigned to investigate the disappearance of scientist. Who are obviously being forced to work on something diabolical that will certainly be used to assassinate Grant when he drives in the inaugural transcontinental railroad spike in one week.

He is teamed up with Artemus Gordon. Gordon is played by Kevin Kline. He is the only bright spot in the film That is like saying it is a good thing you will save money on shoes because your feet have been chopped off. The bright side is sometimes overwhelmed by the dark.

West and Gordon go up against Arliss Loveless, played by Brit Kenneth Branagh. Loveless is a bitter Confederate loyalist who was mutilated during the Civil War. Because he has lost his legs, he has developed a strange fascination with spiders which serves only to set up the dumbest climax in movie history. In the interim, Branagh’s fake southern accent will have to suffice as the dumbest aspect in association with the Loveless character.

Along the way, West and Gordon are joined by Rita Escobar, who was being held prisoner by Loveless. Rita says she was looking for her kidnapped father, but it is a lie solely to create a sexual competition between West and Gordon. We do not find out until later the missing scientist is her husband. But in the interim, we get an eyeful of her Botticelli buttocks, as they are called, so I suppose that is consolation for the unfunny rivalry between the two competing for her affection.

There is a ridiculously long sequence in which Loveless captures all three, separates Escobar from the with the promise of creating a device to rape her, and placing super powered magnetic callars around Jim and Gordon’s necks which attracts flying saw blades. The two defy all laws of physics and good humor in extricating themselves from their predicament. Additional scenes were filmed to be placed here, which is why the sequence runs way too long, because test audiences could not decide if the movie was a comedy. The additional scenes do not add any additional laughs.

It does not get any better from there. Loveless is going to use an eighty foot mechanical spider to kill Grant. West not only survives a fall off the top of the spider, but decides to pose as a harem girl in order to sneak back on later. None of the bad guys notice no harem girls are supposed to be on the thing in the first place.

I am not going to pile on. I know this is a bad movie. You know it is a bad movie. The premise of a black Secret Service agent in 1869 is dumb. The script is awful. The characters are unlikable. It is still difficult to tell if The Wild Wild West is supposed to be a comedy even with the allegedly additional yuks. The numerous racist jokes make you squirm in your seat. The bit with the harem disguise would ruin the climax if you had any expectations for it. By that point, you do not.

Those are all solely the marks of a bad feel, and therefore nothing to get too worked up about. The problem for me is how much I love the original television series. The film is a complete betrayal for anyone who loves the series. West and Gordon are supposed to be like brothers, not fighting all the time. West is a suave gentleman, not a trigger happy jackass with no scruples. Dr. Loveless is a dwarf with a genius IQ and epicurean tastes who wants to rule the world, not some petty racist who wants to revive the South. The changes made between the series and film would not make non-fans more likely to see it and served only to make true fans angry. What was the point?

Robert Conrad, the star of the original series, refused a cameo, trashed the film, and eventually accepted several Razzies on behalf of it in order to protest what had been done to the material. Last year, Will Smith publicly apologized to Conrad, saying he now understood that he had been a part of not only a terrible movie, but of insulting fans of the original series. Anyone who watches movies will still be offended by The Wild Wild West.

Rating: * (out of 5--and I am being generous.)

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