Friday, August 26, 2011

Movie Review: Wild Wild West

In 1965 Robert Conrad and Ross Martin co-starred in a TV show called Wild Wild West. The show chronicled the adventures of James West and Artemus Gordon, two members of the secret service taking on villains in the old west using West's gunslinging and Gordon's steampunk-lite inventions. The major draw of the show was the incredible chemistry between the two stars, who created a screen partnership to rival Kirk and Spock, Luke and Bo Duke, or...um...Bert and Ernie.

In 1999, Barry Sonnenfeld directed a film called Wild Wild West, a 170 million dollar action comedy about an Army Captain and a US Marshall who join forces to stop an evil genius who plans to conquer the United States with a giant mechanical spider. Though financially a success (the film earned back over 222 million dollars worldwide) the movie was considered to be a critical failure and has since become one of the most universally hated movies on the internet, wih 4.4 stars on IMDb and 21% on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the risk of having my internet writer license revoked I have to admit that I never really understood why this movie was so hated. Most of the hate seems nitpicky to me, as if the critics are desperate to agree with the hive mind, but can't actually come up with a justification for doing so, so they just bring up whatever bad things they can think of, no matter how minor.

The one real, major problem I can find with the movie is the two leads, Jim West and Artemus Gordon, as played by Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Don't get me wrong, the movie doesn't need to put the same emphasis on their relationship as the show did, nor would I expect it to. Smith and Kline don't have anywhere near the chemistry of Conrad and Martin. That's kind of the problem, though. Smith and Kline are like oil and water. These two would be unappealing in any movie. Watching them try to emulate one of the greatest relationships in television history is just painful.

To be fair to them, part of this is the fault of the script. The movie -perhaps unwisely- tries to evoke the old buddy cop trope of the two lawmen who start out as enemies before coming to respect one another. Sadly, it never quite seems to get around to the respecting each other part, settling instead on going from hatred to just not caring. It doesn't help that when they finally do get to their big bonding scene it's played entirely for laughs, and punctuated by the two of them being chased through a cornfield by flying saw blades.

KR Rating: 4 GOOD

So is the movie really as bad as everyone says? Not even close. Is it as good as the TV show? No, but to be fair it was never going to be. Haters are quick to say that you have to judge it in context, and they're right. In the context of a big budget action movie -which is what it is- it's actually pretty good. It was never intended to compete with the series, or to be high art. It succeeded at what it wanted to do and it brought something new to the genre, which is more than can be said for most other action comedies, including those that rated higher than it did. The only real problem with the movie is the utter lack of chemistry between the two leads.

If you haven't seen this movie then I suggest you check it out, even if just so you can judge it for yourself. True, fans of the series and those looking for high art won't find a lot to be interested in here, but if you're a fan of action comedies, a fan of steampunk, or better yet a fan of both then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by Wild Wild West.

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