The expectations I had going into this movie were so low, so pessimistic, so permeated with dread and pre-show nausea, that really, they had nowhere to go but up. I was expecting the pandering, look at me showiness of Men in Black, coupled with the vapid excitement of Independence Day, layered with a cheesy slice of The Avengers (shudder). Instead, I got a moderately watchable, surprisingly innocuous summer film. For air-conditioned spectacle and non-insulting comedy (unless you are black or paraplegic), you can’t beat Wild Wild West. Had I not seen it already, it would have been a perfect film for that “you-got-off-work-early-for-the-holiday” surprise afternoon.
Will Smith – I know he’s a nice guy, everyone who works with him loves him, audiences adore him, studios bank on him, but he does nothing for me. He doesn’t bother me, but he’s not ” a draw.” (pun intended – get it. draw, like a gunfight? Oh never mind) On the other hand, I have sat through some serious garbage to get to see Kevin Kline be Kevin Kline, and I was not only not disappointed, I was actually not even embarrassed to see him in this movie (as I was to see Tim Robbins in The Spy Who Shagged Me, for example). Kevin gets to play two characters again, and he gets to do that thing which I think only Kevin Kline can do, which is be both cocky and fallible. He’s a master at it (read: Otto in Fish Called Wanda, the French guy in French Kiss, The Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance) and I love him. Phoebe Cates, look out! Kenneth Branagh…now, since breaking up with the only woman in the world who is perfect for him, Emma Thompson, his career choices have ranged from the shoddy to the inexplicable. But he’s actually quite a pleasing villain.
The star of the movie, of course, is the effects team. But, the nice thing about the effects is, even though you know they are computer generated (she said in a vaguely bored tone), their beauty and execution is in their design and appearance. I have to say, no matter what you think of Wild Wild West, you have to applaud its design. The inventions, Branagh’s lair’s decor, the costumes, the trains, all very fabu!!! Bo Welch is the production designer and he has a nice little resume: Men in Black (ugh), The Birdcage, Wolf, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Joe Vs. The Volcano (that lamp!!!), Beetlejuice…you notice a pattern? Kick ass is the pattern, for the color blind. His art director, Tom Duffield, worked with him on these films as well. CREAMORA! I put their names in here because I want them to know I noticed, and I love them. Hire me! Hire me!!! Teach me what you know! Ahem, excuse me. (But seriously…)
WWW is not brilliant, it’s not seat of your pants, it’s not even post modern – but! The story actually has a beginning, middle, and end (which, given some of the Not-Scottish stuff I have seen this summer is really the equivalent of a Full Price Feature recommendation), and it has characters that, while thin, are still slightly more than two dimensional (thank Smith, Kline, and Branagh for that – nothing like hiring ACTORS, have you noticed?). Salma Hayek, thrown away as usual as the Hot Babe. For the record, there are no boobies, guys, sorry. Rent Desperado. You’ll see more of her skin in Fools Rush In.
The movie does have some high points, even for the detractors I saw it with (I found it to be a pleasant diversion, they thought it was not very good. But you know what – it was almost exactly 72 times better than Phantom Menace) – for example, some lovely pun interplay between Smith and Branagh, and also some surprisingly engaging interplay (sometimes) between Smith and Kline. Sure, they threw in a couple of silly, anachronistic jokes, but they didn’t beat you with them like Myers’ British nitwit does. Sure, you know how it will end (basically) and that’s not why you see a Fourth Of July Weekend movie. You go for the fun. And I thought it was pretty fun. Ooh, special guest appearance by Ted Levine, formerly known as Jame Gumb, the baddie in Silence of the Lambs. Oscar winners crawling all over this movie and it was definitely not as horrific as Sphere. Just go.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/30/1999
Time in minutes 107
Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio Warner Brothers