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Should I Watch..? 'Wild Wild West' (1999)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Poster for "Wild Wild West."

Poster for "Wild Wild West."

What's the big deal?

Wild Wild West is an action-comedy western film released in 1999 and is a very loose adaptation of the TV series of the same name that ran from 1965 to 1969. The film stars Will Smith (who also contributed to the film's theme music), Kevin Kline in dual roles, Salma Hayek and Kenneth Branagh and follows two US Government Marshalls who are on the trail of a murderous Confederate general and a wheelchair-bound scientist ready to wreak havoc on the old West. The film was released to a chorus of critics who slammed the film for being idiotic, unentertaining, and significantly different from the original show. Audiences agreed and although the film made over $222 million worldwide, the high budget and lackluster reviews meant that a sequel was dead in the water. Thankfully.


What's It About?

The year is 1869 and US Marshal Artemus Gordon has teamed up with US Army Captain James West in his pursuit of Confederate general and war criminal "Bloodbath" McGrath across the southern states. After failing to capture him at a brothel, President Ulysses S. Grant orders the two men to investigate the disappearance of a number of key scientists which may be linked to a plot by McGrath. Their only clue is the severed head of one of the scientists, which was found wearing a strange metal collar.

Gordon, who is an inventive technical genius, is able to determine that McGrath is involved and working alongside ex-Confederate scientist Dr. Arliss Loveless who is confirmed to a steam-powered wheelchair. Taking their gadget-filled train The Wanderer to New Orleans, West and Gordon are about to discover that Loveless has much bigger plans (and machines) than either man ever dreamed of...


What's to Like?

Seriously, not much. There is an oh-so-short glimpse of Hayek's behind and Levine gives the only performance worth more than the film deserved. That's it - the rest of the picture is the sort of unmitigated failure that Hollywood hopes people like me forget over time. But this is such a colossal misfire that it's actually hard to salvage anything from the wreckage.

You couldn't possibly accuse the film of having no lack of imagination, given how many gadgets and gizmos are on screen. Granted, most of them are useless or only used for a running gag like Kline's pop-up notebook. I'm always wary of screenplays that have multiple writers because, with so many ideas thrown into the mix, the end result is either a significant watering down of the initial premise or a film so chaotic that it's impossible to tell what's going on. Wild Wild West has ideas coming out of its ears but sadly, not a clue about how to make an entertaining and coherent film. This is the sort of film that stops me from losing hope that any of my screenplays will be sold because if this nonsense can get funding, I don't see why I shouldn't. And I like to hope that it makes me more positive as a person.

All the cast members get screwed but none more so than poor Kevin Kline, seen here in the least convincing drag act in movie history.

All the cast members get screwed but none more so than poor Kevin Kline, seen here in the least convincing drag act in movie history.

Fun Facts

  • Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in order to make this movie, a decision he later said was the worst he had ever made in his career.
  • When the film scooped five prizes at the 2000 Razzies ceremony, star of the TV series Robert Conrad accepted three of the awards in person. It was his way of expressing anger at the movie's lack of loyalty to the show and the quality of the film. Smith later apologized to Conrad for the movie.
  • Adding to the film's mighty budget was the cost of re-shoots which was intended to inject more humour into the film. Test audiences didn't even know the film was supposed to be a comedy. At a rumoured $170 million, it's still the most expensive film Warner Bros have ever made (at time of writing).
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What's not to like?

Right, where do I start? The screenplay is appalling with no laughs and no logic behind anything that happens on screen. The cast all appear to be in it for the money, with the exception of Levine who plays the role like the one guy who doesn't get the joke. Branagh is hopelessly miscast, as is poor Kevin Kline whose career never really recovered from this. Smith, while bringing his usual charisma to the screen, never really convinces as a gunslinger and plays the part more like a lady's-man than an actual hero for audiences to get behind.

The effects were adequate but hardly mind-blowing, considering how much was spent on them and director Sonnenfeld makes a real dog's dinner of the production. The story barely has enough juice to last the distance, not that anyone cares about the story because you're too busy wondering why there are giant mechanical spiders in a western. The soundtrack is a bizarre blend of familiar western themes and hip-hop tracks which was no doubt hoping to capitalize on Smith's rapping career. The annoying thing is, I might have actually gotten on board if the script made me care about these characters but it doesn't. It appears on screen, shows us a lot of nonsense, and disappears again without leaving the viewer with any sort of impression other than a sense of bewilderment.

The movie's steampunk leanings are ill-advised and unwelcome. This is supposed to be a western!

The movie's steampunk leanings are ill-advised and unwelcome. This is supposed to be a western!

Should I Watch?

I'm trying very hard to think of anybody who might actually like this film and other than complete morons and Meccano addicts, this film is best avoided by almost everyone. It's noisy, stupid, and bears no relation to not just the TV show but Westerns in general. There have, of course, been films that are as illogical and meaningless as Wild Wild West but none that have made such a wretched product masquerading as popular entertainment. It's enough to get me reaching for my six-shooter...

Great For: idiots, Meccano addicts, anybody who has never seen a film before or knows what one is.

Not So Great For: fans of the show, children, adults, humanity.

What Else Should I Watch?

Personally, I'd rather watch The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, either of which is a disgusting spectacle that will leave most viewers (including myself) reaching for a sick bag. Anyone looking for a western is spoilt for choice with classics like High Noon or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly to more modern examples like Tarantino's The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained as well as remakes of The Magnificent Seven and True Grit. All of these are considerably better than this tripe. But then again, so is sand in your underwear.

Will Smith has also made better movies - highlights include Enemy Of The State and I Am Legend which sees Smith play possibly the last man alive in a deserted New York crawling with hungry mutants. Lastly, I wish to do right by Kevin Kline because I felt sorry for him. He is a much better actor than this film deserved and he has an exceptional range but I prefer him as a comedy performer - he was just brilliant in A Fish Called Wanda, playing the psychotic boyfriend of Jamie Lee Curtis to absolute perfection and winning an Oscar for it. If you've not seen it then check it out and purge the memory of this film from your brain. I have.

Main Cast


Will Smith

Capt. James T. West

Kevin Kline

Marshal Artemus Gordon / President Ulysses S. Grant

Kenneth Branagh

Dr Arliss Loveless

Salma Hayek

Rita Escobar

Bai Ling

Miss East

Ted Levine

General "Bloodbath" McGrath

Technical Info

* story by Jim & John Thomas, based on the TV show created by Michael Garrison

DirectorBarry Sonnenfeld


S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman *

Running Time

Feels longer than 106 minutes...

Release Date (UK)

13th August, 1999


Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Western

Razzie Awards

Worst Picture, Worst Screen Couple (Smith & Kline), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Original Song

Razzie Award Nominations

Worst Actor (Kline), Worst Supporting Actor (Branagh), Worst Supporting Actress (Hayek), Worst Supporting Actress (Kline dressed as a prostitute)

© 2017 Benjamin Cox

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