Wild Wild West

on June 30, 1999 by L. J. Strom
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   Director Barry Sonnenfeld re-teams with his "Men in Black" star Will Smith for a bigscreen version of the classic '60s show "Wild Wild West," Michael Garrison's sci-fi/spy thriller/fantasy western. It's just after the Civil War, and Captain James West (Smith) is paired with U.S. Marshall Artemus Gordon ("A Midsummer Night's Dream's" Kevin Kline) to discover who's kidnapping the country's top scientists. The trail leads to Dr. Loveless ("Celebrity's" Kenneth Branagh), a bitter Southerner whose body was severed at the waist during the war. Loveless has used the talents of his scientists to construct a mammoth mechanical tarantula, and he seems certain to force the government into abject surrender. Do West and Gordon have enough tricks--and guns--up their sleeves to foil his plot?
   Sonnenfeld's "West" contains the seed of a first-rate adventure. All the right ideas are present--it's the execution that's off. The script is serviceable and sporadically amusing but lacks spark and polish; the pacing feels not brisk but downright brusque. While Smith brings charm and confidence to his role as ladies' man and hired gun, and Kline is likeable as the eccentric inventor/disguise master, their efforts are sabotaged by lack of chemistry and merely average character development. Consequently, Branagh shines brightest as the outrageously baroque, appropriately over-the-top villain.
   Perhaps the movie's most conspicuous element is the production design that effectively integrates gadgets and Gatling guns with rococo interiors and stylish period costumes. However, several scenes have a down-and-dirty look, and the night filming is underlit; this doesn't mesh well with the sunny, comic bookish story. Like the "Batman" franchise, "Wild Wild West" has been taken, in appearance and attitude, from the colorful, campy '60s to the dark, grungy '90s. These sensibilities are difficult to balance; this movie makes a flawed, if game, attempt. Starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Written by S. S. Wilson & Brent Maddock and Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman. Produced by Jon Peters and Barry Sonnenfeld. A Warner Bros. release. Western/Action/Fantasy. Rated PG-13 for action violence, sex references and innuendo. Running time: 105 min
Tags: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Written by S. S. Wilson & Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman, Produced by Jon Peters, Barry Sonnenfeld, A Warner Bros. release, Western/Action/Fantasy, chemistry, scientists, mechanical, government
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