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The West Gets Wilder
A review of Wild Wild West
by J. D. Rummel

To this day I will watch reruns of The Wild Wild West. The series starred Robert Conrad as Jim West and Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon, two Secret Service agents working for President Grant. Jim West was a handsome, two-fisted, tight-panted guy that would take on whole rooms full of thugs and win. Artemus Gordon was a master of disguise who was often thinking years ahead of the rest of the world. It was spawned during the sixties' anything-spy-is-hot period, and survived by being a very clever and original playground. When I heard that it was the latest old TV show to get the big screen treatment I was excited. When I heard that Will Smith was going to portray Jim West I was Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

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

Rating: PG-13

Release: 06-30-1999

Time: 107 minutes

Buy Movie at Amazon.com surprised. I mean, I understood the math. Smith and July openings are movie legend (Independence Day, Men in Black), but, well, Jim West was, uhm, white. I'm not suggesting that roles should be closed to other interpretations, but West was white back in the 1860's when black people who tried to be far less than cool got hanged!

But thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. The Wild Wild West was all about anachronism, and this is the ultimate anachronism--a black man undertaking the duties of a Secret Service agent back in a time when we know he couldn't possibly have the freedom to do it.

And the makers of this film did a very nice job. The theatrical Wild Wild West is a rollicking fun ride. It retains many of the series' key elements: big fights, wild gadgets, and gorgeous, superfluous chicks (Salma Hayek's only function is to be plenty muy caliente). The film also modifies the original main villain, the evil dwarf, Miguelito Loveless, by renaming him Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) and reducing his stature in a different way entirely.

The plot concerns Dr. Loveless' plot to take over the United States. His plot involves giving back portions of real estate to various foreign powers (England, France, and Mexico). To accomplish this end he builds a gigantic mechanical spider with the aid of lots of kidnapped geniuses. No, I don't know quite how an 80 foot armored tarantula is supposed to force President Grant to surrender the country, nor would his signing some document accomplish Dr. L's goals in the real world, but it makes a good excuse for Smith and Kline to bang around on the gorgeous set designs.

Kevin Kline is a superb Artemus Gordon, bringing to the screen everything one expects from a Renaissance man. As for Will Smith, well, add Jim West as yet another character to whom he brings an infectious charm and fun. By my count this makes three July hits any one of which could start a whole series. True, he plays the same guy in every one of them, but lots of screen legends have done the same thing before him.

Lots of folk are saying this isn't funny. Good, I don't think it's supposed to be a knee-slapper, it's tongue -in-cheek, people This is not a bad film at all. Go, see for yourselves, and screw us critics.