I know I shouldn't be biased, but I went into Wild Wild West hoping it would be bad. Partly because I wanted to prove to my readers that I don't like every science fiction movie that comes down the pipe (this year, wonderfully, has been a really good year for genre flicks). Plus, it can be really fun to write a scathing review for a clunker. I missed my chance with The Mod Squad. I didn't want to blow this one, too. The advance buzz for WWW was awful... but director Barry Sonnenfeld argued that that the test audience had been conned with a bait-and-switch. They had been told they were going to see a sneak of the highly-anticipated The Matrix (this was back in May), so a Will Smith action-comedy was bound to disappoint. So there was the possibility that WWW might not be that bad, after all.
Nonetheless, I crossed my fingers and hoped.
I can report now that I got my wish. The movie is bad. And not even bad in a glorious, we-know-we're-creating-ugliness way. The way John Waters can be bad. Nope. This is just sort of clueless why-don't-you-like-my-movie? badness.
Oh, rankness, how do we rank thee? I've heard WWW described as this year's Armageddon or Godzilla or Batman and Robin. A film that makes you want to hold a gun to the director's head and demand two hours of your life back. Instead of using stars to measure quality, we can use asteroids to measure lack thereof.
I don't know, let's say.... I give Vile Vile West three asteroids:
Anaconda was a textbook summary of every horror movie cliche (#17: camera moves in for a close-up of sweaty-faced heroine, panting and staring in the wrong direction, while something moves ever-so-slowly, slowly, slowly! - but out-of-focus - in the background). In the same way, Vile Vile West is a virtual encyclopedia of every ineptitude possible in making a summer movie. What do I mean by "a summer movie"? Well, a movie that takes you away, sweeps you off your feet - or, in the very least gives you something pleasant to do while enjoying a couple hours of air conditioned slouching. Alas, these are not all-that-difficult tasks, but the drunken buffoons responsible for Vile Vile West were not up to it. Quite a surprise, considering that Sonnenfeld did well with Will Smith in Men in Black.
So... uh... what exactly went wrong?
Let me count the ways. A brief lesson in how to make a BAD summer movie:
-Make the main bad guy a cripple. Preferably a cackling cripple. More preferably, a cackling cripple with facial hair more interesting than his personality.
-Remind the intended audience - teenagers on dates, mallrats escaping the sun, kids celebrating life outside of SCHOOL - of all the horrors humanity has inflicted on itself. (Topics like racism and slavery belong in serious movie, an AUTUMN movie - what were you thinking?)
-Forget that action movies are supposed to have action. (I never got the sense that any of the good guys were truly in danger. In contrast, check out the last season of Deep Space Nine. Once they blew off Nog's leg, you had the feeling that this really was the end of the show - some of the main characters might actually suffer and die. If only they'd killed off Will Smith and Kevin Kline... Ah, well.)
-Forget that comedies are supposed to be funny. Example 1: In the opening scene, Will and a pretty young thing are getting it on inside a water tower (don't even think that somebody's going to drink that water). He's a good guy and he hears the bad guys ride into town and spies at them through a peep hole (why is there a hole in the side of the water tower? Don't they keep water in it?). The girl wants to get it on, but he's distracted by the bad guys - he pretends to be kissing her but he keeps looking through the hole. He keeps pretending - making kissy movements with his lips as his face drifts from her to the peep hole that shouldn't be there. Is this funny? No, but they repeat the joke three or four times for what seems like ten minutes. This limp opening is supposed to draw me into the movie? When that interminably unfunny joke is finally over, the water tower collapses because a single four-by-four support gets broken. Yeah, right.
Example 2: Kevin Kline finds a crucial bit of plot-advancing information by projecting onto a screen the last image a dead guy has seen - the image is burned into the back of his retina like a photograph. While Kline is explaining the science, Smith says about his set-up, "That's a dead guy's head." Not really funny - by this day and age we've all seen lots of dead guys' heads. As Kline explains more and more of the science, Smith ignores him, saying over and over, "That's a dead guy's head... That's a dead guy's head." Is the humor supposed to entertain those who can't sit through a four-sentence-long science lecture? C'mon. Spock got a lot more respect than that - and, when he was interrupted, it was by better jokes. When Kline finally turns on the apparatus, it doesn't quite work. It takes Smith, the the token non-scientist to solve the problem (the dead guy had to be wearing his glasses, which just happened to be placed two inches from his head on Kline's labbench). This perpetuates the myth that scientists are really nincompoops and a non-scientist, or even worse, someone who makes fun of scientists, can stroll in and solve the science problem. Not likely. Please leave the science to the scientists, thank you. And your dumb jokes to yourself.
-Make the heroes hate each other, but force them to work together anyway. Worked in Men in Black. Doesn't work here. There's no chemistry, no zip, no fun in the banter between Smith and Kline.
-Set your movie in the past, but let the characters talk like people do today. And make as many references to the present as you can. Do you know what U.S. Marshall and inventor Artemis Gordon (played by Kline) calls his flying motorcycle? "Air Gordon." Gag.
-And don't forget to make the theme a modern dance song - and please rip off Stevie Wonder if at all possible.
Still wanna see this movie, huh? Well, how about these movie-making tips:
-Have each of our heroes fall into excrement-colored muck. Twice. (Don't forget to have one hero sneeze excrement-colored muck on the other's face.)
-Build big, bad butt-whooping machines, but don't bother hiring an artist to make the design-work interesting. (Where's the guy who designed the Nautilus when you need him?)
-Make the heroes fight over the girl. (As if the girl has no say in the matter...)
-Show the girl's butt. Twice if you can. We see Salma Hayek's rear end through an open hatch in her long johns as she's walking away. Smith and Kline call out her name. She turns around. She says "What?" They say, "Nevermind." She turns again. We see her butt again. The scene lasts ten seconds. I hope you didn't pay nine bucks for that.
-Insult blacks. Insult Chinese people. Insult scientists. Did I forget anyone? Oh, yeah: Insult Southerners. Insult Northerners. Insults more groups of people than The Phantom Menace.
-Have yellow liquid goo pour from the bad guy's ear. (I'm not kidding.)
-And, most important, forget that summer films are supposed to be fun, or at least watchable.
This year has already been logjammed with science-fictiony movies. And we've yet to see Inspector Gadget, Muppets From Space, or the movie Harry Knowles calls this year's best, The Iron Giant. (And there's plenty of excellent non-genre films, too - like Run Lola Run and The Winslow Boy.) In a summer this crowded, there's no excuse to waste your time on this crap. Quick - toss this one into the pool of excrement-colored muck. Quick now, before you get any on ya.
Style: 2/10 (Sure the train, The Wanderer, and the wheelchair did some fun things - but didn't we see guns hidden behind flip-around panels in some other Barry Sonnenfeld film? And the improbable train, mechanical spider, tank, etc., didn't have an interesting look to them, either.)
Dialog: 1/10. (Will Smith as he offs baddie with swords for hands: "No more Mr. Knife Guy." Ack.)
Acting: 2/10. Can everyone mug just a little bit more?
Fun: -3/10. Fun? The movie careens madly between the stupid, the insulting, the boarish, the cruel, and the disgusting - is this supposed to be fun?
Agree or disagree? Let me know.
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