The sixties television series The Wild, Wild West has been brought to the screen as, simply, Wild Wild West – presumably, the employment of the definite article and the comma would be too taxing for its core audience. And who might that audience be? From the look of this film, its prime appreciators will be heavy-metal futurist dweebs. Barry Sonnenfeld, who last directed Men in Black, works a lot of Jules Verne-ish hardware into the proceedings – flying contraptions, gadgetized trains, an 80-foot mechanical tarantula – but they lack visionary magic. They’re more like computer-generated Tinker Toys.
This happens to be one of the most expensive films ever made – the budget is rumored to have been a few ice floes short of a Titanic – and yet from the slipshod look of things, nobody involved seems very clear on why it was made, except, of course, to cash in on the pairing of Will Smith and Kevin Kline as special government agents James T. West and Artemus Gordon in the postbellum South. But even this matchup is a fizzle: Smith’s hip-hop aloofness and Kline’s Master Thespian routines don’t mesh. Together they’re doing solos. As Dr. Arliss Loveless, the diabolical legless wonder they’re trying to vanquish, Kenneth Branagh uses a few tricks he probably saved up from playing Iago a few years back. His comic villainy is the only point of light in this hectic muddle.