Wild Wild West

www may mean one thing to a lot of you out there, but in this particular case "www" means the action movie starring Will Smith and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Wild, wild Will is ridin' high lately and turning into a regular box-office broncobuster.

Wild Wild West
® 1999 Warner Bros.
(all rights reserved)
photo courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic
James West (Smith) is a special government agent who manages to do his job well, charm the ladies like they've never been charmed before, enjoy himself as much as possible under any circumstances, and stay on top doing all of it (sort of like a black James Bond). Artemes Gordon (Kevin Klein), another special government agent, unexpectedly meets up with West and within minutes of their first encounter they manage to get themselves into and out of a right old prairie stew. Artemes is a genius of disguise and gadgets (sort of like an Old West version of Q in drag). As explosive as their first moments together might be, it's nothing near what's in store for the dynamic duo once the evil Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) enters the scene, a man with no legs and less good will. This man uses both machines and machinations to put his plans into action. Much to Artemus's dismay, the two good guy buckaroos wind up getting assigned to a project together. Completely different by nature, it doesn't take long to understand that one believes in precision planning while the other believes in shooting. They wind up pursuing the devious trail of Loveless who, as it turns out, is plotting to assassinate the President of the United States and take over control of the world. In order to achieve his diabolical plot, this little man not only spends hours whizzing around on a cast-iron, steam-driven wheelchair, but also drives his own gigantic 80-foot-tall walking weapon (also steam driven) called The Tarantula. Are you ready?

Of course, our boys would be less interesting ridin' down the dusty road if they weren't accompanied by the feminine charms of Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), who also wants to assist, no matter how awkwardly, in the demise of Loveless (if only she'd keep her hands off the boys' billiard balls). Loveless, never one to be outdone, surrounds himself with his own villainous lovelies in the form of Miss Lippenrieder (Sofia Eng), Munitia (Musetta Vander), Miss East (Bai Ling) and Amazonia (Frederique van der Wal). He may have lost some of his appendages, but this doesn't seem to have slowed him down. On wheels or with machines, the man keeps on moving. Perhaps he still hopes that the South will rise again.

Producer John Peters has chosen a fun script for another box- office hit. Not really coming up to par with his earlier choices "Witches of Eastwick," Batman," or "Rain Man," this new production may offer some exciting moments, but could never hold up to a second viewing as the others indubitably do. Nevertheless, it's bound to draw a crowd. A spy film and romantic comedy made into an action packed chase dressed in the West with an added touch of hi-tech weaponry derived from the horror genre. Guess that'll keep it shelved in all possible sections of Blockbuster Video.

Everybody seems to be having a good time. Even the bad guys are having a good time. Branagh is funnier than ever before as the evil shrunken man with a sneer for everyone and an endless supply of sarcastic remarks. Kline walks (sometimes runs and jumps) through his role, but he's wonderful doing it and, boy, can that guy cook. M. Emmet Walsh doesn't really have any great demands made on him by the script as he drives the good guys' locomotive. General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine) is the nasty who keeps proving that you can't keep a bad man down and manages to supply quite a few belly laughs along the way.

Winner for most interesting machine among the lot is The Tarantula. One leg was actually built (weighing in at 10 tons), but the rest was left to computer animation (familiar with the term out there?). Good thing West and Artemus didn't suffer from arachnophobia. That would have really thrown a monkey wrench into the works.

Smith is a necessary element for the success of this film. His charm is the element that binds it together and makes it work. He also used this charm to assemble the personalities (Dru Hill, Kool Mo Dee, Stevie Wonder, Babyface, Enrique Iglesias, etc.) on the soundtrack. (Let us not forget old hand Elmer Bernstein, who has done a great job, as usual, for the score.) Smith's done a fine job with the title song too, which is all his, and it has an eye-catching video clip which you'll undoubtedly see (many, many times) on MTV. Things are getting better all the time for the FP. Who knows what the future holds in store for young Will? The next thing you know, he'll be wanting to run for President.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett