Wild Wild West

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

“The Wild Wild West” has the weak, weak script. It is not unusual to see a trailer that is better than the movie, but in this case the music video is brighter, wittier, and more exciting than the movie.

Will Smith may still own the 4th of July, but this year’s entry is much weaker than his 1996-97 one-two punch of “Independence Day” and “Men in Black.” His unquenchable appeal goes a long way toward making up for poor plotting and dialogue, but not far enough, leaving us with a summer popcorn movie — impossible to resist at the time, but leaving you a bit queasy afterward.

The 1960s television show starred Robert Conrad in a bolero jacket and very tight pants as a Civil War era secret agent. Like the newly popular James Bond, West was a spy who was infinitely attractive with the ladies and who always triumphed over the bad guys, who were always maniacs intent on three things — total world domination, killing West in fiendishly complex contraptions, and making sure that they conveniently explained all their plans to West in time for him to escape from the fiendishly complex contraptions and save the world again. West’s sidekick Artemus Gordon was a master of disguise and technology. Their most frequent foe was Dr. Loveless, played in the series by Michael Dunn. And the whole thing was very much tongue in cheek.

The big-screen version has Will Smith as West, all bolero jacket, tight pants, and attitude, with Kevin Kline as Gordon, Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Loveless, and Salma Hayek as the lovely Rita Escobar, who flirts with all three men and spends much of the movie in fetching 19th century lingerie with a brief detour into a union suit with the trap door open. The plot remains the same — Dr. Loveless, vowing revenge for losing his entire lower half in the Civil War, seeks total world domination, and West and Gordon have a week to stop him. There is some attempt to deal with the fact that West is a black man at a time when most black people had only recently been freed from slavery, but the fact is that the entire movie is so completely preposterous that the effort is awkward and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film.

Indeed, the overall tone of the film is awkward, not giving Kline or Hayak much to do, though Kline has a nice turn as President Grant and Hayak looks fetching in her undies. Branagh is happily over the top as the bad guy, there are some cool special effects, and Smith’s charm and grace carry it a long way, but not far enough to make it anything more than a pleasant diversion less raunchy than “Austin Powers.” Parents should know that there are some PG-13 sexual references, including prostitutes and Loveless’ impotence and a lot of cartoon-style action- violence.

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy Remake Spies

Bean

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

One of the classic set-ups for comedy is what I refer to as the “Cat in the Hat” plot — one or more “normal,” somewhat bored characters find their lives completely (and yet somehow enjoyably) disrupted by a free- spirited character who has what a modern psychologist might refer to as “sloppy impulse control.” This is the basic premise of the first feature film starring Rowan Atkinson’s cult favorite, Mr. Bean. Bean is something of a throwback to the classic silent film comedians, a childlike man who is unabashedly consumed with enjoying himself, and incapable of considering the consequences for others. In an effort to make the character more appealing to a U.S. audience, the producers have sent Mr. Bean to Los Angeles and to actually have him not only trying to solve the problem he creates but even hugging someone. The result is uncomfortably uneven.

Frustrated with his work as an incompetent guard at an art museum, but unable to fire him, his supervisors send him to a U.S. art gallery as an “expert,” to speak at the unveiling of “Whistler’s Mother.” All of this is an excuse for what is really a series of slapstick sketches (on an airplane, in a kitchen, in a hospital, and of course in the art gallery) involving very little dialogue, but many funny faces and physical contortions, and a lot of potty humor and general grossness.

Parents should know that there are some sexual references. Younger kids may miss the suggestiveness of Bean’s pelvic gyrations when he is trying to dry his pants in the mens’ room. But a young boy says that he can’t sleep because he keeps thinking about naked women and asks what an intrauterine device is. There is a modern version of “Whistler’s Sister,” featuring a nude. Bean gives people “the finger,” thinking it is a friendly gesture. Grossness includes an exploding vomit bag on the plane, a very wet sneeze onto a painting, an overdose of laxatives, and a candy dropped into an open incision, washed off, and eaten. Bean and his American host (Peter MacNicol as David Langley) respond to disaster at work by going out to get drunk. Langley’s wife and children respond to disaster at home by leaving. His daughter is in a motorcycle accident and it is not clear whether she will be all right.

This movie will be most successful with kids who are already familiar with the character and appreciate that kind of humor. Other kids may be very uncomfortable with the gross and embarrassing situations. Parents may want to point out that Bean is upset by the guns carried by the police because British police don’t carry guns. They will also want to talk about the different attitudes toward art, and about Bean’s “solution” to the problems he creates. Kids may enjoy knowing that Atkinson did the voice of Zazu in “The Lion King” (but adults will remember him as the malapropish vicar in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”).

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Based on a television show Comedy
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