Wild Wild West
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Written by the Anonymous Four

Starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh


Wild Wild West

It must have seemed like the greatest idea since Bogart and Bacall. Will Smith and Kevin Kline, the two best farceurs around, playing the team of James West and Artemus Gordon in this remake of the old TV show. Pick up Kenneth Branagh as the villain most foul. Add in Barry Sonnenfeld, director of 'Men in Black,' and even the great Michael Ballhaus as cinematographer, and it can't lose, right?

Only who are S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman? Well, they're nobody, or nobodies, or should be, because they're credited as the writers of this bumbling mess, and boy did they screw up. The premise isn't bad: West and Gordon are brought in to provide President U.S. Grant with security from Arliss Loveless (Branagh), the inventive evil genius who wants to create his own country carved out of the United States. But problems start with almost the first scene, when what should have been lively farce, set in a bar and whorehouse, turns into a Schwarzenegger-type extermination. And by the time we get to Branagh's ultimate weapon -- a spider the size of a football field, which looks like something left over from a Lucasfilm extravaganza -- we've long since given up hope of finding anything funny in the movie.

The one rule of farce is that there has to be an inexorable logic to what we see. Whether it's Buster Keaton or Monty Python, everything must build on a logical premise. Here, logic is abandoned early on, with new setups, rationales, and locations popping up every five minutes. There's more time spent on mechanics -- the spider, magnetic collars that hold our heroes together -- than on making anything work and be funny. And then the film takes us from West Virginia to Washington to New Orleans to Monument Valley to Ogden, Utah, but everything but Monument Valley is studio or back-lot. Why bother, if there's no reason to go?

There are so many loose ends, so few jokes, and even fewer laughs (there's a difference: the jokes belong to the film; the laughs are ours) that we spend more time wondering where it all went wrong than we do in watching the film. Branagh, who has the only decent lines in the film, is fine. Kline and Smith stand around trading insults and you-do-it-your-way-but-I'll-do-it-mine lines until you want to bring in two new heroes instead.

The film looks as though it was originally a lot longer, but one can guess that preview reactions told them to shorten it because there weren't enough laughs. So of course that meant cutting out any sense of continuity. Things happen without either antecedents or consequences. We're just expected to watch a series of separate episodes and link them in our minds. Sorry. Next time write a movie, so we don't have to do your work for you.    

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