Wild Wild West (1999)
Main cast: Will Smith (James West), Kevin Kline (Artemus Gordon), Salma Hayek (Rita Escobar), and Kenneth Brannagh (Dr Arliss Loveless)
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld


This is the movie everyone loves to hate. Me, I enjoyed it tremendously. Probably because I've only caught one or two episodes of the old TV series this movie is based on, and even those I remembered only vaguely. Hence, I watched WWW on a clean slate, without any expectations or preconceived ideas on what to expect and what to nitpick on. It turned out WWW was a fun movie in the tradition of leave-your-brains-at-check-in blockbusters. There were the usual two polar opposites forced into an uneasy alliance, lots of zinger exchanges, and plenty of special effects.

James West was a US Marshal who, in President Ulysses S. Grant's words, shoots first, second, then some more, and then asks questions of all the dead people lying around. Artemus Gordon was a fellow US Marshal who preferred to use his brains, investing his skill mainly in inventing clever mechanical gadgetry. Both their paths collided one night in a bordello when Artemus was in this awful female disguise and James' presence blundered up his mission. A meeting at the White House then revealed they were both after the same man who was kidnapping all the leading and famous scientists around. Whoever was behind this kidnapping had as a result created a secret weapon that would destroy USA unless the President surrendered the country to him. The two US Marshals had a week to clear this matter up. These two men, already disliking each other's approach, had to work together on this case. The Brawn and the Brain.

Here was where I must say I found James and Artemus fun together. Their exchanges had me laughing loud, particularly the scene where James gave his opinion on Artemus' fake chest padding (which was part of his female disguise). It was even more fun watching them trying to outdo each other while vying for the affection of Rita, an 'entertainer' who actually wanted to rescue her father from the villian's hands. Rita was your typical clueless ditz, but Salma Hayek played her with enough panache to make her likeable. Even more fun is Dr Loveless, a man who had lost his entire lower half of his body (don't ask how he survived to tell the tale). His veiled insults at James' skin color were matched word by word by James' equally sarcastic barbs at his infirmity. "How did we get into such a dark situation?" was replied with, "I'm as stumped as you are". What a hoot.

I found James West an intriguing character. A former slave and soldier who had to fight the scorn and disdain of others on his skin color, how could he manage to remain laughing and easy-going? I'm sure West had some inner pain. It was a pity the script didn't let him flesh out more fully. His conversations with Artemus, you know, those obligatory bonding sessions, were very brief, giving only a glimpse of what may be a remarkable hero. Artemus was a bit more oblique. A dapper gentleman who frowned on pugilistic skills and spent time making gadgets, who was he really? A lonely man? He certainly could charm, so that couldn't be. So who was Artemus Gordon? I never knew.

Which may be why many disliked this movie. Characterization barely dented the surface of who these people could be. Although I had to admit I found it a refreshing and realistic approach not to have James and Artemus bonding so thoroughly to the point of being drinking buddies. It was only a week after all. I couldn't help leaving the cinema smiling, for I knew these two people would continue their friendly bickers and share many adventures in the future. Yet I do wished the script hadn't sacrificed character development for the sake of effect-laden excitement, however fun the latter might be.

Ah yes, the special effects. I love the way they made the old West so real yet at the same time, so sanitized! That's Hollywood for you. It was a delight, however to see Penny Farthings on the road alongside horses, the half-finished future famous landmarks of Washington DC, although I puzzled over the fact that most of the women in WWW usually turned up in some sort of red/blue/green tight corset and nothing else. I know, this is a movie for the boys after all. But that didn't stop me from enjoying WWW thoroughly. There, I've said it. I loved the movie!

Rating: 85


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