Wild Wild West
Wild Wild West is a 1999 American steampunk Western action comedy film co-produced and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (who also directed the 1997 hit Men in Black, which is considered one of Will Smith's best films of all time) and written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock alongside Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, from a story penned by Jim and John Thomas. Loosely adapted from The Wild Wild West, a 1960s television series created by Michael Garrison, the film stars Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek.
In 1869, when President Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline) learns that diabolical inventor Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) is planning to assassinate him, he orders Civil War hero James West (Will Smith) and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon (also Kline) to arrest him. West's trigger-happy personality doesn't always mesh well with that of the thoughtful Gordon, but they manage to work together. And with the help of a mysterious stranger (Salma Hayek), West and Gordon close in on Loveless.
Why It Sucks
- The film has an extremely poor grasp of the source material for the following reasons:
- James West, as portrayed by Will Smith, is African-American in the film while in the original series, he is Caucasian.
- Artemus Gordon, as portrayed by Kevin Kline, is almost the same as his original television series counterpart, except that he is much more egotistical and creates inventions that are ridiculous, humorous and implausible inventions than usual in the series, as well as having an aggressive rivalry with West whereas in the television series he and West had a very good friendship.
- Dr. Loveless was changed from being a dwarf to a man without legs and confined in a steam-powered wheelchair (similar to that employed by the villain in the episode "The Night of the Brain"); his first name was also changed from Miguelito to Arliss and was given the motive of a Southerner who sought the defeat of the North after the Civil War.
- While Gordon did indeed impersonate Grant in the series (in the episodes "The Night of the Steel Assassin", "The Night of the Colonel's Ghost" and "The Night of the Big Blackmail"), they were not played by the same actor.
- The film overuses sexual innuendos, which were not in the original series.
- Poor storyline and writing that has many plot holes despite having a total of six screenwriters (four for the screenplay, two for the story). As a result, the film tends to focus more on the special effects than the story, characters and events.
- Unconvincing acting, particularly with Smith, Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Salma Hayek as West, Gordon, Dr. Loveless and Rita Escobar.
- Many of the jokes are not very funny and are rather stupid, like when West dresses up as a belly dancer (which comes off as extremely awkward).
- Despite being set in 1869, the film features several anachronisms, such as:
- In real life, President Grant wasn't present at the golden spike ceremony. In the film however, he is.
- In some shots where the American flag is shown, it has 50 stars while in real life, the flag had 37 stars from 1867-77.
- In the film, Smith uses his trademark "AWHELLNAW" and other modern slang, which didn't exist during that time.
- In a panoramic shot of Washington, D.C., the dome of the Capitol is still under construction during the administration of President U.S. Grant, after the Civil War. In real life, the dome was already completed in 1864 in time for the second Lincoln inauguration in March 1865.
- Dr. Loveless refers to one of his vehicles as a tank, though in real life the name "tank" for such a vehicle wasn't coined until the British used it as a cover name during World War II.
- In one scene, Gordon states that in 1540 Leonardo da Vinci designed a flying machine. However, Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519, indicating that Gordon claims that da Vinci designed something 21 years after he died.
- In another scene, West says he was in New Liberty with the 9th Cavalry Regiment one week before the end of the war. In real life, the 9th Cavalry was already founded in July 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War.
- In the climax, President Grant establishes the Secret Service to protect the President and names West and Gordon the first agents of the Service. In real life, the Secret Service was already founded in 1865 in order to fight counterfeiters; the agency started acting as Presidential bodyguards after the 1901 assassination of President McKinley.
- The film uses hip-hop music during the ending credits, which obviously doesn't fit in a Western film.
- The Western cliches are poorly executed and don't work.
- Tonal shifts, such as James West talking about a brutal massacre being followed by jokes about Rita Escobar's rear end.
- Laughable lines that make no sense (eg. Artemus Gordon stating "I'm the master of the mechanical stuff!" in a goofy-sounding voice).
- Extremely weak twist ending involving Rita's father actually being her husband, which was extremely pointless.
- The idea of a steampunk film set in the Wild West was a nice idea at the time, but it was not well-executed.
- The song "Wild Wild West", which was used in the film's closing credits and sung by Will Smith, is pretty awesome too and was better than the film to most Smith fans.
- Elmer Bernstein's musical score is decent most of the time.
- The entire film is "so bad it's good", that it can make for unintentional comedy.
- Most of the special effects are pretty good (especially on the spider, which is a pretty awesome vehicle), even by 1999 standards; they even look practical with a nice touch of CGI.
- The fight scenes are pretty decent.
Wild Wild West was panned by critics and audiences and currently holds a 17% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 4.1 out of 10 and a critic consensus that states "Bombastic, manic, and largely laugh-free, Wild Wild West is a bizarre misfire in which greater care was lavished upon the special effects than on the script." Roger Ebert awarded the film one star and stated about the film, "Wild Wild West is a comedy dead zone. You stare in disbelief as scenes flop and die. The movie is all concept and no content; the elaborate special effects are like watching money burn on the screen." On Roger Ebert & The Movies, guest critic Joel Siegel of Good Morning America labeled Wild Wild West as his worst film in the Parodies That Self-Destruct category on Roger Ebert's Worst of 1999 show and stated "Wild Wild West isn't just a movie gone bad. Wild Wild West represents the very worst about the Hollywood system." while Ebert named Lake Placid as his worst film in the same category. Joel later added "They can create huge and amazing special effects. But, they can't solve the simplest problem in filmmaking - how to tell a story!"
Wild Wild West opened up at #1 on its opening weekend with a domestic gross of $27,687,484 and grossed $108,300,000 in foreign marketing. The film made $113,804,681 at the U.S. box office against its budget of $170 million and the overall gross was $222.1 million worldwide making it a commercial disappointment.
Awards and nominations
Wild Wild West won five Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture and Director. It had four nominations including Worst Actor for Kevin Kline. Despite being awarded with Razzies, the film also won a Kid's Choice Award for Best Song, which was "Wild Wild West". It also won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Best Actress.
Other Critic quotes
- "Wild Wild West isn't just a movie gone bad. Wild Wild West represents the very worst about the Hollywood system. They can create huge and amazing special effects. But, they can't solve the simplest problem in filmmaking - how to tell a story!" - Guest critic Joel Siegel of Good Morning America on Roger Ebert's Worst Films of 1999 show
- "A giant, bombastic flop of a movie." - James Kendrick of Q Network Film Desk
- "While its television counterpart will continue to live on in syndication, this version is headed for Boot Hill." - James Berardinelli of ReelViews
- "Few things are potentially more dangerous to the health of a studio picture than giving a director and a star enough rope to hang themselves." - Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times
- "The western deserves better. So do Smith, Kline and Branagh. So do Hayek and Sonnenfeld. And maybe even, heaven help us, so does The Wild, Wild West." - Michael Wilmington of The Chicago Tribune
- The idea for the giant mechanical spider in the third act was originally going to be used in the cancelled movie Superman Lives, in which Superman would fight a massive spider in the third act. Since Warner Bros. couldn't afford to make Superman Lives however, the studio instead decided to put the giant spider in this film.
- According to screenwriters S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, their original script was rewritten almost entirely from their original draft. The duo, who have worked on several movies together, claimed their script was heavily rewritten by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman in an attempt to add more action and comedy to their original script that was a serious and dialogue-driven mystery western. Following this, Wilson and Braddock tried to get their names taken off the film after seeing the final product, to which they have since refused to work with a major studio because of the terrible experience they had.
- Warner Bros. decided to heavily promote this film over Brad Bird's animated film The Iron Giant.
- In 1997, Gilbert Ralston (a writer on the original series) sued Warner Bros. over making this film.
- The film's plot bears significant resemblance to the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Showdown", featuring Jonah Hex.
- Robert Conrad, who played James West in the original 1960s television series, accepted three of the Golden Raspberry Awards the film won in person in order to show his dissatisfaction with the film. He was even offered by director Sonnenfeld to make a cameo appearance as President Grant, but turned it down.
- A decade after this film was released, Will Smith even regretted starring in this film and apologized to Conrad for starring in it. Ironically, Smith turned down playing Neo in The Matrix to star in this film since he was a fan of the series.
- Ted Levine also grew up watching the series. While Levine stated he enjoyed working on the film, he also pointed out that the script had no center due to the numerous revisions on the script by the film's writers, which caused the story to be all over the place.
- George Clooney was originally attached to play Artemus Gordon, but turned it down; Matthew McConaughey, Johnny Depp and Tim Curry were also considered for the role.
- Asia Argento was also considered for the role of Rita Escobar, as well as Jennifer Lopez, but both of them turned it down. It was then offered to Penélope Cruz, who also turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with her film Volavérunt (which was later released the same year as the film).
- Due to the film being a box office bomb, it is theorized that the film failed because unaccompanied minors would buy tickets to see the film but instead use them to sneak into screenings of the R-rated [[mh:greatestmovies:South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut}} (which was released the same day as this film).
- The film was the second film in which Kevin Kline played the President of the United States and the man impersonating the President; the first was Dave (1993).
- When Warner Bros. first announced the film in 1992, Mel Gibson was set to play as James West and Richard Donner (the director of Superman and the Lethal Weapon films, as well as episodes of the original series) was going to helm the project from a screenplay by Shane Black. However, Gibson instead decided to star in Maverick (another adaptation of a Western TV series, which was also directed by Donner). After Gibson starred in Maverick, Tom Cruise replaced him but declined again in order to star in Mission: Impossible.