Wild Wild West

All movie guide rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Yet another TV series is revived for the big screen, as Will Smith and Kevin Kline join forces as James T. West and Artemus Gordon, the most sophisticated government agents of the 1860's, in the film adaptation of The Wild Wild West. West and Gordon represent two opposite ends of the personality scale: West is a smooth-talking charmer and man of action who prefers to shoot first and ask questions much, much later; while Gordon is intensely methodical and cerebral, with a genius for gadgets and mechanical innovations. They're brought together by no less an authority than the President of the United States to track down an evil genius named Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh). Loveless was once an honored military leader and inventor until one of his schemes went awry and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Driven mad by the experience, Loveless is determined to get revenge on the United States by assassinating the President, using a 60-foot tall mechanical spider. Assisting Loveless is a team of beautiful female criminals, Miss East (Bai Ling), Amazonia (Frederique Van Der Wal), Munitia (Musetta Vander) and Miss Lippenreider (Sofia Eng). As the initially suspicious West and Gordon learn to work together, they also find themselves helped by an attractive woman, Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), who has her own bone to pick with Loveless. Wild Wild West reunites star Will Smith with director Barry Sonnenfeld, who previously worked together on the hit Men In Black (1997). Wild Wild West features a hip-hop theme song from one-time Fresh Prince Smith, along with a more traditional Western score from composer Elmer Bernstein. -- Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

One of the box-office smashes of the summer of 1999, this film by director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Get Shorty) was raked by critics but embraced by audiences. Based on the 1960s TV adventure show that starred Robert Conrad, this film reimagined Secret Service agent James West as Will Smith, adding Oscar-winner Kevin Kline as his sidekick, agent-inventor Artemus Gordon. President Ulysses S. Grant puts West and Gordon on the trail of malign genius (and former Confederate soldier) Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) in a story about racism, partnership, and world domination. The special effects are lavish, even garish, but not all that special; they're not enough to elevate a mundane and familiar plot. Even Branagh, playing a man who only exists from the waist up--literally--can't find the juice in this lumbering affair. Still, the fast-talking team of Smith and Kline is a nimble one. Smith's affable charm and Kline's subversive wit win many points, though not nearly enough. --Marshall Fine

Based on the sci-fi western TV series that had some wry fun spoofing westerns and spy movies in the '60s, Wild, Wild West feels more like a parade of high-tech doohickeys than a buddy western. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, The Addams Family) forgot to include a compelling plot and any real reason to root for anyone. Starring the charming Will Smith as secret agent James West (a definite improvement over stolid Robert Conrad, who played the role in the TV series) and the reliably hammy Kevin Kline as a cross-dressing U.S. marshal, the twosome have a great odd-couple chemistry, but it all gets lost in a blaze of special effects and not-so-special storytelling.

Some of the Victorian-era Rube Goldberg devices are a kick in the pants and give the movie a breathlessness that might occasionally be mistaken for momentum. The highlight of these refugees from Popular Mechanics is the giant eight-legged mechanical monster known as the Tarantula.

This overgrown arachnid was created by Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a mad military genius intent on kidnapping President Ulysses S. Grant (Kline again) and taking over the world. You only have to look at $50 bill to know that Loveless isn't going to make it, so all that's left to do is to rate the villain (Branagh's legless, long-haired madman is a camp classic) and figure out how our heroes are going to stop him. But the goings-on in WWW are so silly and patently unbelievable that by the end you probably won't even care.

The DVD version contains commentary by director Barry Sonnenfeld that is often funnier than the movie itself and several documentaries on how it was made. Seeing how much effort went into the art direction and special effects just makes you wish they had put some of this energy into writing a decent script. -- Guy Nicolucci

My rating: 4 Stars