STARRING: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek

1999, 107 Minutes, Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

www01.jpg (16492 bytes)"Well, I didn't see anybody laughing - did you?" Homer Simpson asks Bart of the Police Academy movies in one Simpsons episode (after claiming that he made the boy watch them for educational purposes). Well, the same could be said of the audience I was with watching Wild Wild West. No, I didn't exactly hear anyone laughing as well . . . It was if the cinema had been turned into a laugh-free zone.

A local reviewer dubbed this new collaborative effort between Men In Black director Barry Sonnenfeld and the very popular Will Smith a "bad, bad mess." It isn't exactly that - rather, the operative word is lame. Nothing seems to click or work out. The attempts at humour just drift around without any pay-offs, the interaction between Will Smith and his co-star Kevin Kline just doesn't sparkle, the effects look murky towards the end, the action sequences lack urgency. Or maybe it's not a comedy at all - I don't know. But then again, why have both Kline and Smith dressed up in drag at various points in the movie?

Drag? Yeah, the humor is pretty obvious and every trick (or rather comedy cliché) in the book is used; but that shouldn't be a problem really. The week before I saw Wild Wild West I saw Austin Powers - The Spy Who Shagged Me in which the attempts at humor were pretty obvious as well - except it worked, goddammit! Maybe because of its sheer energy and maniacal style - who knows? But Wild Wild West is merely lame . . .

So where did things go wrong? After all, this is Will Smith and Barry Sonnenfeld we're talking about here. After all, Sonnenfeld also gave us the excellent Addams Family movies and Get Shorty. Don't take me wrong - some bits in Wild Wild West are moderately entertaining and will raise a smile or two. But laugh-out funny? No.

"The attempts at humor just drift around without any pay-offs . . ."

The movie tries to be clever like Men In Black. It also takes a way-out premise - this time two agents trying to foil the nefarious schemes of a mad scientist shortly after the American Civil War to conquer the United States with a huge mechanical spider - and pursue it doggedly to its end. After seeing the trailers, I went to the movie expecting the sort of Jules Verne-type gadgetry that used to amaze me as kid. They were there, but none of them seems to have any internal logic behind them. You couldn't imagine how they would work - they simply did, courtesy of computer generated effects. The gadgetry simply failed to fire the imagination.

The same could be said of the various performers in this movie. They have all had better days and better material to work with. The scene in which the Smith character is about to be lynched by rednecks should have been funny - but it is just lame. It reminded me of a scene in 48 Hrs which Eddy Murphy did (the bar scene, worst nightmare being a "nigger with a badge" - remember?) but whereas Murphy pulled it off, Smith doesn't. Maybe because the dialogue is so inanely lame . . .

Kids will probably be entertained by Wild Wild West - but if you're an adult there are more bearable movies out this season you can watch with them. If you want action and adventure, then there's The Mummy. If you want laughs there's the new Austin Powers movie. If you want sci-fi, then there's The Matrix or The Phantom Menace. If you want a cool Will Smith movie, go rent Enemy of the State. A Western? Then go watch The Good, The Bad & The Ugly again. There are a whole lot of better alternatives out there to Wild Wild West . . .

Oh yeah, I forgot - Wild Wild West is based on a cult television series of years ago. I haven't seen any episodes of it, but am struck as to the similarities between The Avengers and this movie - both lame big budget movies based on old TV shows and produced by Warner Bros. studios. Don't they ever learn?



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