Wild Wild West

Wild West, no, I'm sorry, the name is Wild Wild West, sure was a strange place: wacky mechanical contraptions, nitroglycerin-powered Penny Farthing bicycles, gigantic steel tarantula running around on steam, homicidal cyborgs, spring-loaded handle-with-extreme-caution notebooks, steam-powered tanks, automatized trains, flying craft, deadly magnet-propelled flying devices.

Review by SAndman
July 27, 2010

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

story: Jim Thomas and John Thomas
screenplay: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman

Will Smith as Capt. James West
Kevin Kline as U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon
Salma Hayek as Rita Escobar
Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Arliss Loveless
Ted Levine as General 'Bloodbath' McGrath

Released: 1999

Dr. Arliss Loveless: Mister West! How nice of you to join us tonight and add COLOR to these monochromatic proceedings!

The plot of the Barry Sonnenfeld movie is set in a uniquely offbeat vision of alternate history of a steampunk extraction - every nook and cranny of this world seems to be filled to overflowing with examples of an advanced, or just bizarre, depending on how you look at it, technology based on steam. And nothing, absolutely nothing, in this world is to be taken seriously.

In a sense, that is a prerequisite for enjoying Wild Wild West. If you accept all the historical incongruities and all the quirkiness that goes on in the movie at face value, and manage to suspend skepticism, you will likely find WWW funny in a lighthearted, loopy way despite some deficiencies in the script, the odd lame joke, and the occasional slowing of pace.

As the movie opens a major crisis is looming on the horizon. Someone is kidnapping, and killing in the most bizarre way (think, jagged flying steel discs), leading American scientists. President Grant sends his two most able agents, a mechanical genius Artemus Gordon and brash, "shoot first, shoot some more, ask questions when everybody's dead" U.S. Army Captain James West, to investigate these disappearances.

Before long the duo stumble upon a conspiracy led by the former Confederate officer, General "Bloodbath" McGrath, and evil mastermind Arliss Loveless, whose knack for inventing deadly devices is matched only by his hatred for the good ol' USA - apparently his beef goes back to Civil War and the crippling wounds he suffered in it.

Trundling in a train packed with Artemus's patents, which have a nasty habit of backfiring in the most inopportune moments, up and down, and across, the country in pursuit of, or pursued by, McGrath and Loveless, the two federal agents will face many dangers - some posed by their sinister adversaries and some by their conflicting personalities and styles. To make matters worse, their (working) relationship will be put to test when the proverbial damsel in distress comes along, and decides to stick around for better or worse.

As I already said, not taking Wild Wild West seriously is absolutely a must if you want to enjoy an hour and half of this laid-back romp across the wacky landscape of Barry Sonnenfeld imagination. If you choose to not look too carefully into the sheer outrageousness of his vision in which gunslingers and bushwackers meet wacky, outlandish technology, and if you have a penchant for eccentric, and borderline psychotic, (ego) trips across genre boundaries, Wild Wild West is a movie for you.

And, darn, remind yourself to laugh out loud occasionally; it helps you get through the odd moment where the script writers ran out of fresh jokes, and especially through the lines spoken by the character played by Selma Hayek. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out what the heck Selma Hayek was doing in Wild Wild West. And my guess is Kline and Smith couldn't either.

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