Wild Wild West (1999)

As we all saw with Tarantino a few years ago, the idea of Will Smith in a Western isn’t a bad one. Smith has a modern look that’s not accessible for every film, but with the right director Smith could shine. It’s just too bad he straddled himself to Barry Sonnenfeld who casts Will in one of the most poorly conceived TV to movie adaptations of all time. “Wild Wild West” is worse than “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Charlie’s Angels” combined. What’s worse is that director Sonnenfeld has absolutely no idea how to utilize Smith in a Western setting. So by the time the movie has started, rather than rely on the pulpy martial arts theme from the original series, the movie just becomes a showcase for Will Smith to be Will Smith. Even in the old West, Smith is the wise cracking, shade wearing, cowboy who is a hit with the ladies.

And for his sake, Sonnenfeld casts aside all kinds of period accuracy for the sake of delivering a silly vanity piece for his star. “Wild Wild West” was a fondly remembered Western series that kind of broke western convention with an off the wall hero who was kind of a martial artist. Sonnenfeld and Warner, however, just want to evoke an action western with a steam punk mold, simply to allow Jon Peters to have his long desired giant mechanical spider. Every piece of “Wild Wild West” is so ill fit almost like they forced together pieces of a puzzle, and then to make them fit, just took scissors to certain pieces. It’s tough to make out who exactly this movie was intended for, as it covers a lot of themes and plot elements and ends up absolutely incoherent. There’s not a lot of reasoning for the steam punk motif, of the heavy comedy, or even the forced racial overtones in what is essentially just a wacky cartoon with a hip hop soundtrack.

One minute Jim West is canoodling with a lover in a water tower, and the next he’s reminiscing about the slavery his family endured during the civil war. “Wild Wild West” wouldn’t be so awful if it played to Smith’s strengths, but its efforts to manufacture a blockbuster out of Smith, results in so many bad creative decisions at every turn. Smith obviously has a hand in the script and dialogue for his character, so when we meet Jim West, it’s Smith all over again. We never get a sense of who the character is, despite the oddly tragic back story. “Wild Wild West” is an utter embarrassment to endure, from the gross out humor, the nonsensical plot, and the need to stuff that obscenely gigantic mechanical spider in the climax. Actors like Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh also have absolutely no business being in a film of this ilk, and they seem hell bent on embarrassing themselves while being reduced to goofy character models.

Both gentlemen seem to work on auto drive working more as caricatures of what an old west steam punk hero and villain would be, rather than trying to work with characters that we can root for. Kline is atrocious as inventor/spy and US Marshal Artemus Gordon who delights in cross dressing whenever he can, and creating odd ball devices. All the while Branagh seems to be going for broke as a character with zero menace or mystique whose entire presence is built on how many jokes about amputation the writers can squeeze in a ninety minute period. It’s obvious the crew had zero idea what “Wild Wild West” was and what they wanted it to be, as it’s just a god awful committee made action film that falls apart at the seams by every passing minute.