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Imagine Will Smith riding a conveyor belt through his last three movies: Independence Day, Men In Black, and now Wild Wild West. His costume and style of gun has changed, but the wisecracking character we have come to know as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, has not.
In Wild Wild West, the Fresh Prince is disguised as the gun slinging James West, a special government agent who has been assigned by the U.S. president to work with Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), a more imaginative agent that uses disguise and gadgetry to capture criminals. The two are on the trail of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a diabolical genius who had the misfortune of losing his legs in the Civil War. Now, with the aid of a weapon toting wheelchair, Loveless spends his time designing complex war machines - the ultimate is a huge mechanical spider, with which he plans to assassinate the President and overthrow the United States government.
Based on the popular 1960's television series, Wild Wild West is really just the cowboy version of "James Bond" with some "Jules Verne" style high tech machinery thrown in. What the television series didn't have was Smith's 1990's attitude - an awkward ingredient in the post-Civil War period. For instance, at a formal gathering, he jokingly mimics playing bongo drums on a white woman's large breasts. The crowd, now turned lynch-mob, incredulously listens to Smith's "defense" with great patience (an obvious solution for screenwriter's block), granting him the time he needs to escape.
Though billed as a comedy, innumerable people gunned down in the opening credits and a decapitation scene was enough to make me lose my sense of humor. Our introduction to Smith's character happens while he and a woman are bathing in a water tank (both naked, with no explicit nudity). Their sexual prattle and the preceding violence are an early indication of what you can expect throughout this film.
For Smith to continue his reign at the box office, he needs to explore some fresh ideas and leave the west behind.
Wild Wild West is rated PG-13:
Cast: Will Smith, Kevin Kline
Studio: 1999 Warner Bros.