ONE STAR - Disappointing
“The Wild, Wild West” is mis-rated. Beginning with a decapitation scene, a sexual encounter between two obviously uncommitted persons and a brothel with vulgar innuendoes, the first ten minutes quickly set an immoral and repulsive tone.
The storyline is so bathed in vengeance and hatred that the violence it presents has no redeeming purpose or admirable heroes, yet the movie industry has rated this film as PG-13.
Sitting in uncomfortable silence, it was shocking to hear children in another row nervously laughing when half-way through the film the two supposed-to-be heroes are fleeing from giant metal disks flying through the air to decapitate them.
Children were watching this film. Their high, nervous voices sounded as though they were about seven or eight years of age.
We have no doubt that the parents did not realize what they were taking their children to see.
PG-13 is supposed to mean parental guidance is needed and parents can decide whether their children UNDER 13 can see moderate images of violence or immorality without being harmed or haunted by them. But what about those from 13 on up? These kinds of images are titillating to, and easily mimicked by, many teenagers which unfortunately is the audience to whom this movie is aimed.
Though parents may disagree as to what will help their children live full and meaningful lives, and though adults may disagree as to what viewing a graphic film does to a person’s sexual, social and spiritual lives, it does not help any of us when creators of films deceive us by giving a rating that is preferred commercially even if the film deserves a far more adverse rating.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld and writers Jim and John Thomas appropriated the theme of a TV series many of us watched as children. The basic plot of two “secret service” operatives up against a mad genius who is kidnapping all the best scientists in order to take over the world, is a melodramatic plot which could have been a clever and humorous experience.
Set within the days following the Civil War, the mad genius is a southern gentleman appropriately named Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh).
Having been injured during the war, Loveless has lost both of his legs and is imprisoned in a steam-powered wheelchair.
But it is not just his body that has been deformed by his injury. His soul has become consumed with the desire to defeat President Grant (Kevin Kline). To do so, he has forced the greatest scientists in the world to build an ultimate weapon, a giant metallic spider with tremendous fireball artillery.
To stop Loveless, the President has joined his two best agents, James West (Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (also Kevin Kline).
James West is an expert with weapons and hand-to-hand combat. Artemus Gordon is an expert at disguises and various inventions. Both are loners who do not want to be stuck with the other.
The film tries to create a dynamic comedy team out of their interactions, but their lack of chemistry and the repulsiveness of the story keeps us from enjoying their escapades.
It is also disheartening that the leading woman in the film, beautiful Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek), is not truly who she says she is and uses her beauty to get them to help rescue the man she says is her father, but later we find out he is her husband. Once more, a character lacks the integrity to simply ask for help.
Though the “good” wins in “The Wild, Wild West,” there is no sense that the good is that much different from or even safer than the bad. James West’s own vengeance on Loveless who had previously killed West’s family, taints his already questionable behavior.
Unfortunately “The Wild Wild West” takes actors of great potential and frivolously wastes their talents on cheap jokes and vulgar gags. The power of a film to give us true heroes whose lives, though imperfect, are nevertheless lived with dignity and depth of character is disappointingly lacking here.
Graphic violence as shown in this film devalues human life. Probably the best way to send a message to the makers of these kinds of films - and the ratings board - is to send it with your feet walking away.