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Review: 'Wild Wild West' a wasteful, wasteful mess

Web posted on: Friday, July 02, 1999 1:33:40 PM EDT

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Two times in the recent past, actor Will Smith has owned the Fourth of July weekend. First with "Independence Day" in 1996, and then with "Men in Black" in 1997, Smith has delivered two early-July blockbusters. Once again, all eyes are on the former "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Can he pull it off for a third time? Maybe not.

Take an old TV show. Transfer it to the big screen with big-name stars, and a budget of more than $100 million. Include lots of state-of-the-art whiz-bang special effects. Ignore any semblance of story development. Add hype. What do you get? Another brilliant original film from Hollywood? Nope, you get a wild, wild mess in "Wild, Wild West."

Theatrical preview for "Wild Wild West"
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Paul's Pix: "Wild Wild West"
Real 28K 80K
Windows Media 28K 80K

Like the original 1966-'69 television show, this feature film is set in the 1860s and is more or less "James Bond meets 'Gunsmoke.'" Will Smith plays special government agent James T. West; Kevin Kline plays his sidekick, agent Artemis Gordon; and Salma Hayek as Rita Escobar is -- well, her sole purpose is being the main chick with well-displayed cleavage.

These characters' mission, as it was 30 years ago on TV, is to save the United States from some hideous villain. In this case, the bad guy is a gleeful Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Arliss Loveless -- legless (a Civil War injury) and a wee bit bitter about his wartime experience. He's hatched an evil scheme to sell off most of the United States to rival governments and keep a huge chunk of the northwest territory to himself. His weapon of choice is a monstrous 80-foot-tall, steam-driven mechanical tarantula, the centerpiece of the film's special effects.

The result? A cautionary tale about boys and their toys and what happens when a star, Will Smith, and a director, Barry Sonnenfeld, are given way too much money to play with. Hollywood studios tend to open the candy store to anyone with a recent blockbuster on a resume. It's happened again.

Men in boots

There are some wonderful double-entendres here and there, sprinkled among the otherwise boring dialogue. Unfortunately, there's an equal amount of really dumb puns, too. A few of the effects are slick and inventive and the production designs by Bo Welch -- who did "Men in Black," "Batman Returns" (1992) and "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) -- are dazzling.

But "Wild Wild West" is a wasteful, wasteful mess. There are no fewer than six people credited with the story and screenplay and there's never before been so much proof-positive that too many cooks can spoil the broth.

It also doesn't help that Smith is smug throughout. Kline looks embarrassed much of the the time, and there's no chemistry between the two actors. Hayek is reduced to being just decoration -- extremely attractive decoration, but that's what decoration is all about.

The only participant who appears to be having any fun in this uneven, half-baked film is Branagh. His character is way over the top and captures the campy attitude that should have been present through the entire film.

Like hot cakes

It's a good bet that this film will open big -- Smith's name alongside that of director Sonnenfeld should guarantee that. But word-of-mouth may put this film into video stores soon. OK, probably not, but one can hope, can't one?

The hip-hop title song, sung by Smith, is a lot better than the film -- and a whole lot shorter, too.

"Wild Wild West" opened nationwide June 30, and is rated "PG-13" with a running time of 107 minutes.

'Men in Black:' DO believe the hype
July 4, 1997
Kline on a roll
September 23, 1997

'Wild, Wild West'
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