I’m divided when it comes to big popcorn movies. In a way, I’m saddened by how Hollywood denaturalizes the art of cinema with shallow, predictable, undaring movies fueled by easy gags and special FX. That feeling is real strong when I come across lazy, audience-underestimating crap flicks like “ID4”, “Godzilla” or “Deep Impact”. But you gotta admit that some blockbusters are effective in what they do. Movies like “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, “Terminator 2”, “Aliens” or Starship Troopers are not exceptionally smart or anything, but they’re hella entertaining for sure! Of course it’s frustrating to see big budget movies stampede small gems like “Election” or “Run Lola Run”, but costly silly movies like “Wild Wild West” can actually be quite enjoyable.
Will Smith stars as West, Jim West, the phattest cat in the old West. Smith gives his character his natural charisma and his keen sense of humor, and he sure looks sharp in his cowboy hat! He’s a special agent working for President Ulysses E. Grant, a few years after the end of the Civil War, which terminated slavery in the old South. Being black is still viewed as inferior by some, but West doesn’t worry too much. As long as he has his bravado and his 6-shots, no redneck is gonna call him boy! Someone once said (was it Roger Ebert?) that action movies are as good as their villain, and “WWW” has a great one. Played colorfully by Shakespearian actor Kenneth Brannagh, Arliss Loveless is very memorable with an odd beard, a top hat, a thick accent, and the lower half of his body replaced by a mechanical wheelchair. Like the best bad guys, he’s playful and likable even though he’s evil. I also enjoy how the movie throws in lots of historical references and has fun with it. Loveless is a Confederate Army officer who, pissed that the North beat his troops, recluses and captures the top savants in the country to conceive the ultimate weapon, a 80 foot tall hydraulic, rocket-launching metal tarantula! He uses it as a threat to force the President to surrender the leadership of the United States to him.
As you might have guessed, that’s when Jim West is sent to stop the madman. He’s teamed with another amusing actor, Kevin Kline. If Smith’s West reminds of James Bond with his action skills and his womanizing, Kline’s Artemus Gordon reminded me of “Back to the Future”‘s Doc Brown, which was portrayed by Christopher Lloyd, and visited the Old West in the third movie. Both are zany, quirky inventors ahead of their time yet a little offbeat. Even though this is more than a hundred years ago, Gordon has created tons of nifty gadgets which helps him with his talent for disguise in completing his missions. The unlikely pair is joined by a bodacious saloon dancer played by the hotter than hot Salma Hayek, who does almost nothing besides strutting her gorgeous boobs and her fine, fine buttocks. I’m okay with that, horny young man that I am, but she deserves better than always playing sexual objects.
“Wild Wild West” is far from perfect, with its formulaic plot and lack of character development, but it’s an entertaining ride. This very loose adaptation of the 60s cult Robert Conrad TV show was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, one of Hollywood’s most interesting big guns. His movies are mainstream, but they still have style and originality. His latest is visually stunning thanks to impressive special FX and cinematography. It also features cool action scenes and funny bits of comedy. But what makes the movie really exceptional is its unique blend of two of the most different American movie genres, science-fiction and Westerns. I love how you get the Western clichÃ©s, like the saloons, the campfire, the horses and the trains, buts it’s spiked with huge digital effects and amusing anachronisms. For some reason, the movie was universally panned by critics. They say the movie’s messy, predictable, and so on. I don’t know. I thougth too the movie would sucked, but I found myself grinning through it. “Wild Wild West” might be ill-conceived and forgettable, but it makes for a satisfying summer moviegoing experience.