Friday, December 01, 2017

Wild Wild West (1999)

When I was in middle school, we got a new principal.  I think the first interaction I had with her was her coming up and hugging me.  It was is if she were treating us like third graders.  It didn’t make much sense until we found out that she had been teaching at an elementary school the year before.  It took her some time to overcome force of habit.

I thought of that when I saw Wild Wild West.  It’s as if the writers were used to writing movies for small children and this was their first attempt at writing for adults.  Many of the scenarios seem intended for more for adult audiences, but the overall sense of the movie seems to be geared towards a less-sophisticated audience.  (I wouldn’t say it’s geared towards teenagers, but it’s close.)

The movie starts out with James West and Artemus Gordon both looking for one General McGrath.  He’s wanted for murder.  Gordon is inside a brothel dressed as a woman.  West arrives later, having chased a carriage filled with nitroglycerin.  (West, of course, stops the nitroglycerin from going over a cliff at the last moment.)  Arresting McGrath doesn’t go so well.  He escapes and the nitroglycerin is pushed into the building, starting a fire with both West and Gordon still in the building.

The next scene has Gordon and West meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant, both apparently unscathed.  Apparently, McGrath is part of a larger plot.  All anyone knows at the moment is that several top scientists have been kidnapped.  They pursue a lead to New Orleans; Dr. Arliss Loveless is hosting a party there.  In the mansion where the party is being held, West and Gordon find Rita Escobar.  She claims her father is one of the kidnapped scientists.

It turns out that Loveless is the one behind everything.  His plan is to get President Grant to hand over all of America’s land.  He’ll give back certain territories various parties, such as giving back the former colonies to Britain.  He’ll keep the northwest area of the United States for himself to rule over.  The only catch is that Grant won’t surrender.  What follows is a sort of cat-and-mouse game, eventually resulting in Loveless‘s defeat.

I’m not sure exactly where the movie fails.  Will Smith and Kevin Kline play West and Gordon, respectively.  I can’t put it on the acting, though.  The same goes for the directing.  Barry Sonnenfeld also directed the Men in Black movies, which I liked.

I think it has more to do with the writing.   Salma Hayek is given very little to do Rita Escobar other than stand there and look pretty.  She’s not even a McGuffin.  Her character probably could have been written out with very minor changes to the plot.  There are also a few scenes where West and Loveless talk to each other.  Instead of anything useful, the two just insult each other.  West makes jokes about Loveless not having legs and Loveless makes crude remarks about West’s race.  It’s not entirely out of character, but it’s also not entirely necessary or funny.  (On that note, there’s also an Asian character, who’s last name is East, which sets up an obligatory East-meets-West joke.)

I don’t really feel guilty about giving away some of the jokes, as I’m going to have to recommend skipping this movie.  Rather than worry what would happen if you saw it anyway, I’d rather explain why it’s something you’d want to miss out on.  I kind of wish I had been given that warning, myself.  The movie is billed as a comedy, but wasn’t really funny about it.  It felt like a lot of the jokes tried too hard or missed the mark.  I kept watching the movie thinking Salma Hayek could have done better.  Then it occurred to me that this applied to everything about the movie.  There are so many better movies out there.  You shouldn’t have a problem finding one.

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