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Wild Wild West

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

Big Willie Weekend, 1999

Two summers after their hit film MEN IN BLACK, director Barry Sonnenfeld (d.p. of BLOOD SIMPLE) and star Will Smith (SUICIDE SQUAD) tried to bring a similar comedy/special-effects/adventure mix to the old west. It’s like a western in that there are cowboy hats, guns, railroads and occasional horses, but also not really because it’s about two top agents for the president going undercover and then having a big battle against a giant mechanical spider that’s on a rampage and headed for the White House. Not a type of story I’ve seen done with John Wayne or Clint or anybody.

The basis is The Wild Wild West, a western-meets-spies TV show that lasted four seasons, ending thirty years prior to the movie. It was actually cancelled not due to a lack of popularity, but controversy over violence on television, and did have two followup TV movies. But the last of those was in 1980, and nineteen years later it was at best a cult show, and not yet available on DVD. So this is another expensive blockbuster based on characters that most of its intended youthful audience had never seen, or in this case even heard of.

But they didn’t have to know it was based on anything. Waning interest in westerns may have been a bigger problem, but that could’ve been overcome by the popularity of Smith, or the fun gimmick of the gadgets and steampunk type robotics, or the energetic style and cartoonish humor of the director of the ADDAMS FAMILY movies.

But that didn’t happen.

Smith plays Jim West, cocky proto-Secret-Service hotshot who President Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline, SILVERADO) sends to hunt the infamous Confederate General “Bloodbath” McGrath (Ted Levine, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake). He quickly discovers that Grant also sent inventor and master-of-disguise Artemis Gordon (Kevin Kline, RICKI AND THE FLASH), and the two are forced to buddy up, traveling on a train filled with crazy gadgets in search of some missing scientists.

The trail leads them to another Confederate, Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN), who is also a brilliant inventor and is able to get around in steam-powered wheelchairs even though his lower body was blown off in the war. (Later he has a chair that walks around on four robotic legs.) He’s supported not only by General McGrath, but an all-female squad of bodyguards dressed like ass-kicking showgirls. I like that the one with the shotgun is named Munitia (Musetta Vander from OBLIVION I and II and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION). Also he has Jim West’s opposite, Miss East (Bai Ling from THE CROW, stunt doubled by Diana Lee Inosanto).

There’s a famous story about producer Jon Peters (THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, BATMAN) trying to force a giant spider into the SUPERMAN LIVES movie that Tim Burton and Kevin Smith were trying to do, and then into a movie of the comic book Sandman, and then he finally got it into this. So Dr. Loveless has been stealing weapons and great minds in a plot to build his giant tarantula and enact his plan of the De-United States of America.

I want to be clear here: just because a crazy person came up with this idea does not mean it’s not cool. The giant spider is the best part of the movie. But Peters also conceived the worst part of the movie: the two long sequences of Kline and then Smith in drag, with big fake boobs, successfully seducing men using Miss Piggy voices. Sonnenfeld says on the DVD commentary track, “So, this sequence coming up where you see Will Smith in a dress was Jon Peters’ idea. Jon loves men in dresses. It was his idea to put Kevin Kline in a dress at the beginning of the movie in the saloon, it was his idea to have Will in a dress, he kept fighting to see if he could find a way to have a scene with both Will and Kevin both in dresses at the same time.”

I’m not saying it’s “problematic,” I’m saying it’s just not funny, and in the case of the Smith scene it undermines the menace of Dr. Loveless, who seems smarter than the heroes until he interrupts the execution of Artemis Gordon to watch an unsolicited “sexy” dance.

There’s alot of broad humor like this: Gordon hypnotizing McGrath to bark like a dog, or having a spring-loaded boob to punch a guy, etc.

If you do want problematic though, there’s a disturbing joke where Dr. Arliss has kidnapped undercover dancer Rita (Salma Hayek, DESPERADO) and implies that he has some kind of mechanical method to rape her, and then it cuts to his disc-launching device, which looks like this:

Other jokes are clever but not really funny. McGrath has a metal cylinder embedded in his head as a listening device. When he’s shot dead, a puppy comes over and stands next to him…

…and it looks like the RCA logo. Yeah, I recognize it, but why is that funny? I mean, you could work the Morton Salt girl in here too, but I don’t know why, it wouldn’t be funny. Sonnenfeld says on the commentary that this is his favorite joke.

I’m not one of these people who hates Smith or resents him for being a giant mainstream movie star. He and I go way back to when I saw DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince open for Run-DMC on the Tougher Than Leather Tour. I seem to like I AM LEGEND more than anyone else and I also defend a couple of his widely panned movies, SEVEN POUNDS and AFTER EARTH. So you know no disrespect is intended when I say his approach to comedy really bothers me sometimes. He has this “I’m being funny now” voice and demeanor that ruins alot of his joking for me, and that definitely happens in this movie.

I think they’re trying to make him a little bit like the John Shaft of the Old West. When they show him during the cool TV-style intro, Elmer Bernstein’s music throws on some (sadly not very funky) wah-wahs. And in his first scene he’s using a water tower as a combination stakeout spot/romantic sex hot tub with a beautiful woman (Garcelle Beauvais, I KNOW WHO KILLED ME) we never see again. And he talks in a circa-1999 idea of a cowboy “with attitude.”

This brings me to the aspect of the movie that actually makes it more interesting than I ever gave it credit for. In 1999, Will Smith was the world’s biggest movie star, yet I remember various knuckleheads online whining that a black man couldn’t star in a western. Obviously they weren’t familiar with the history of African-Americans in the old west, or the movie POSSE, which could’ve taught them about it. But I completely forgot that it is not just color blind casting, the story actually addresses race and our nation’s history of slavery, which feels daring and even a little uncomfortable in a big silly wannabe blockbuster based on an old TV show.

It starts immediately. The first white man who sees West is about to call him the n-word when West punches him out. Sneaking into a fancy party, a guard calls West “boy” and he takes on a mock-subserviant voice before, again, punching the guy out.

When he first meets the amputee Dr. Loveless, they have a fake-polite conversation insulting each other with innuendo – Dr. Loveless using phrases like “haven’t seen him in a coon’s age” and “a slave to your disappointment,” West hitting back with phrases that involve standing up, legs and halves.

And the craziest part is when he touches a white woman’s boobs (he thinks she’s Gordon in disguise) and almost gets lynched for it. He stands in front of the torch-wielding mob, his neck just feet away from the noose, and does kind of a comedy routine trying to explain away the incident and charm his way out of it. It culminates with asking “Would it help if I told you I thought you were a man?” and the woman fainting and tipping over backwards like a plank. So there you have a good mix of what is edgy about WILD WILD WEST and what is the opposite.

Meanwhile Gordon is off rescuing Rita from a cage, so he’s not helping. Or is he? Somehow he set it up so there was a rubber noose that West could use to catapult himself out of danger. I don’t know how I feel about this.

We learn that West’s mission is personal: McGrath and/or Loveless murdered his parents. They lived in a settlement of ex-slaves called Libertyville, where the ex-Confederates tested their super-gun in a racist massacre. It’s played as a standard “you killed my parents” revenge trope, but the racist savagery of it makes it more potent.

President Grant respects West enough that he can just walk into the Oval Office, and not get in trouble when he shoots a bullet into the ceiling. He’s the suave hero, surrounded by bumbling rednecks, a term he even uses for the fancy rich people who almost murder him. Because so much of the comedy doesn’t work it’s easy to say they’re making light of something they shouldn’t be. But I think it’s admirable that they try to deal with historical racism rather ignore it in the name of tastefulness.

Branagh, I have to say, is pretty funny with his Jeff Sessions accent and smarmy attitude. I can’t say I approve of his HUNGER GAMES facial hair, though.

It looks like Mr. Spock tossing a pizza.

As it gets into the big battle at the end – usually the worst part of a movie like this – I have more fun with it. There’s a part where Loveless dumps West through a trap door on the giant spider to get “a whooping,” and he has to fight off a succession of killers with different gimmicks. Stunt coordinator and second unit director is Terry Leonard (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) and the action stuff is well done.

I was surprised to find myself really thinking Smith was funny in this scene. A guy comes at him with big swords for hands, so West says “Hell, I got one of those too” and pops a little knife out of his boot. The guy swings his swords around expertly, so West growls and wiggles his knife foot back and forth. Then they have a pretty good fight scene. Sonnenfeld says on the commentary that “some of this sequence was conceived by Shane Black” and that all of it was shot by Bill Pope (THE MATRIX). It genuinely made me laugh when West said

Seems like something out of HUDSON HAWK.

There are other good ones. I like when Gordon has a tiny, tiny gun that West found hidden inside a belt buckle, and he points it at Munitia and she immediately surrenders and tosses her big gun away.

Tiny guns are actually a Sonnenfeld theme, I think. One of the MEN IN BLACKs definitely had a joke about tiny guns that are really powerful. I don’t know if he had that in RV or not.

At the end West is dangling off of Loveless dangling off of the spider and Loveless says “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, how did we arrive at this dark situation?”

To which West replies, “I have no idea, Dr. Loveless. I’m just as stumped as you are.”

And I have to admit that at that point I was totally on the movie’s wavelength.

It’s a good looking movie. The production designer is Bo Welch, who has worked often with Sonnenfeld and Tim Burton. The cinematographer (except for those reshoots with Bill Pope) is Michael Ballhaus (GOODFELLAS, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON), obviously working in some of the style of former camera guy Sonnenfeld. There’s an EVIL DEAD or PHANTASM style shot following flying metal discs as they chase West and Gordon through a corn field. Also they do a cool optical illusion in the scene where a gunman is disguised as a painting on the wall.

 

In 1992, Richard Donner almost did a WILD WILD WEST movie with Mel Gibson and a Shane Black script. Donner decided to do MAVERICK instead. (Remember, Donner also almost did THE FLINTSTONES. He decides against doing alot of these movies.) I’m not clear if Black ever wrote a script – it seemed to me like Sonnenfeld was saying that he script doctored that scene, not that it was left over from an old script of his. According to the credits, the story is by the brothers who wrote PREDATOR (Jim & John Thomas), script by the guys who wrote TREMORS (S.S. Wilson & Brent Maddock) and the guys who wrote WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman).

Sonnenfeld and Smith originally signed on with George Clooney (BATMAN & ROBIN) on board to play Artemis Gordon. He had vacated Sam Raimi’s JACK FROST (eventually not Sam Raimi’s, and with Michael Keaton) to take the role, but he and Sonnenfeld agreed that the changes being made to fit him in were ruining the movie. He stepped aside and that must’ve been when he did THREE KINGS.

Arguably the thing that’s most remembered about the movie, and the cheesiest part, is the end credits theme song by Smith. Hearing it now it’s kind of catchy, there are far worse songs. At the time I resented it for lifting the tune of one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs. And I remember seeing an interview with Smith, I think from when he performed it on the MTV Movie Awards, gushing about how he’d been wanting to work with Kool Moe Dee for years.

All Kool Moe Dee does is say “Wild Wild West,” and until I learned otherwise I assumed it was just a sample of him saying it on his own song of the same title. What the fuck, man. Give him a verse!

I expected the song to fade into Bernstein score on the credits, because I forgot there’s also an Enrique Iglesias love song. There was actually a whole soundtrack album padded out with unrelated hip hop and R&B. For some reason it opens with Tupac and Dre’s “California Love” and also features Eminem featuring Dre, BLACKstreet, MC Lyte, Faith Evans, Slick Rick and Common featuring Jill Scott. It also has the first released song by 12-year-old Li’l Bow Wow.

There was a line of action figures.

There were trading cards. The novelization is by Bruce Bethke, whose 1983 short story Cyberpunk popularized that term. There was a PC game called Wild Wild West: Steel Assassin – a different adventure than in the movie, but with West and Gordon who appear to be based on Smith and Cline.

Meanwhile, Burger King had two types of round sunglasses – one for Jim West, one for Artemis Gordon – with a W-logo carrying case and lens cleaner. And they had a set of six different toys that came with their “BK Big Kids Meals.” I imagine the “Salma Hayek sitting down” figure went on all kinds of amazing adventures in kids’ imaginations.

Of course, the summer of 1999 was destined to be dominated by STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE. People talk trash now, but it was a huge phenomenon, and I personally don’t remember meeting anybody who didn’t overall like the movie until a few years later. In a distant second place that year was a summer hit that nobody saw coming, THE SIXTH SENSE. You also had Disney’s TARZAN and THE MUMMY and the March release THE MATRIX was probly still lingering in some theaters. So there was alot to compete with.

WILD WILD WEST was famously rejected by the world, the first major stumble in Smith’s career, putting the future of Big Willie Weekend in question. It won a bunch of Razzies, and who gives a shit about that, but the harsh part is that original Jim West Robert Conrad accepted them in person out of hatred for the movie.

It ultimately grossed less than half what MEN IN BLACK did, on almost double the budget. It at least opened at first place for its weekend, but considerably smaller than MEN IN BLACK, which makes me think it wasn’t just poor word of mouth, but people not being sold on the Will Smith western comedy thing in the first place.

Or maybe Kevin Cline is no Tommy Lee Jones. I don’t know.

I suspect if it had been a big success that we would’ve seen a new Smith/Sonnenfeld joints every 3 or 4 Julys. Instead they did two more MEN IN BLACKs, and otherwise Sonnenfeld has concerned himself with smaller comedies like BIG TROUBLE and RV. He’s had more critical success on TV, between The Tick, Pushing Daisies and the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Smith’s career took less of a hit. Within two years he was playing Muhammad Ali and getting an Oscar nomination for it, and soon BAD BOYS II had him back in the graces of the box office. It would be nearly a decade before the run of HANCOCK, SEVEN POUNDS, MEN IN BLACK 3, AFTER EARTH… okay, one of those is okay, two I like, one I didn’t see, but to different degrees they erased the previous conventional wisdom of Smith the invincible box office champion.

During that time, Smith said in an interview that he understood why Conrad was offended by the movie, and apologized for it. But I have a theory of how the film could’ve had a lasting effect on his career: Smith’s $2.5 million, two-story trailer that he lived in while filming MEN IN BLACK, annoying the shit out of people wherever he parked. I bet he got the idea from living on that train! I bet he has gadgets in there and shit!

Spider and drag loving producer Peters seemed to flame out in the next decade. He was credited on ALI and SUPERMAN RETURNS, but seemed to be done after paying $3.3 million to an assistant he sexually harassed on the latter. In an interview last January with The Hollywood Reporter, Peters brags that he was banned from the set of MAN OF STEEL but still got an executive producer credit and $10-$15 million. Also that he voted for Trump, obviously. And now he’s producing the remake of A STAR IS BORN that was gonna be directed by Clint and now will be Bradley Cooper.

I remember hating WILD WILD WEST at the time, and there was a bit of dread and masochism to me watching it again for this series. Much of the comedy is definitely as bad as I remembered. On the other hand, the attempt to deal with the legacy of slavery and the civil war in a movie of this type is kind of cool, I do have to give it up for the cool mechanical spider, and I did genuinely laugh at some of the jokes toward the end. I feel like the needle leans a little more toward… kinda liking it?

This is not a full-on endorsement, but I will say that I have gone 18 years remembering it as total shit, and I’m not gonna think of it that way anymore. So congratulations to everyone involved.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 at 11:19 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Wild Wild West”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    July 18th, 2017 at 11:35 am

    “It looks like Mr. Spock tossing a pizza.” *looks at picture again* WHHHAAAAA?!?!?!??!?!?

    That’s why you’re the greatest, Vern.

  2. “I’m just as stumped as you are.”

    Oh my god, I JUST NOW got that.

  3. I assume Peters’ credit on the upcoming A STAR IS BORN is a contractual thing (like his ongoing ‘involvement’ with the SUPERMAN series, even though he’s barred creatively). Peters was heavily involved with the Barbara Streisand version of STAR because he was dating her at the time (his first job in Hollywood was as her hairdresser, which he parlayed into working on her films, and then producing other films). Frank Pierson, who wrote and directed the film, wrote an amazing article about what a non-stop freakshow that production was, in large part because Streisand was a control freak and Peters was milking her for every ounce of power he could get.

  4. When I first heard of that this movie was gonna be made, I thought it would be a remake of BLAZING SADDLES, because DER WILDE WILDE WESTEN (I don’t think I have to translate that) was the German title of that one. I was surprised to hear at a later point that this was supposed to be “one of the biggest special effect movies ever made”.

    Anyway, I always liked it more like most people did. In fact, this is one of these movies, that slowly gains the reputation of “Y’know, it’s actually pretty good”, although admittedly much, much slower than with most other “Not as bad as they told me” movies.

    Sonnenfeld’s career remains a sad mystery to me. To varying degrees I liked all of them (Haven’t seen the “Kevin Spacey is a cat” movie). WILD WILD WEST wasn’t a career destroying box office bomb, but I guess the critical beating he took for that, plus the 9/11 related dumping of BIG TROUBLE kinda derailed his movie career, outside of MIB sequels. I know he had some promising movies in the making, but none of them ever got made! Not even with another director. But hey, at least his TV work prevents him from becoming a sad Hollywood punchline.

    BTW, I hope that HANCOCK counts as summer fling too. I seem to be one of the only three people who really like it, warts and tonal shift and all.

  5. I haven’t seen this in years and years, but I remember not hating it. Honestly, it didn’t seem all that much worse than MEN IN BLACK to me, give or take a few terrible jokes. But am I reading this right? Kline plays both a master of disguise AND the President of the United States…and they never have a twist where it turns out Gordon was actually the president all along? The fuck kinda shit is that?

  6. This movie is very important to me because it marks a huge turning point in my movie-viewing-obsession habits. This movie broke me. It broke me bad. This is the first movie I absolutely hated that I kinda became obsessed with. I was unable to process how a movie with so much talent and money behind it could be so bad. I mean of coarse I’d seen bad movies by that point but I do believe that this was the worst one I saw up until that point in my life (at least what I perceived to be the worst one). It was so bad that my brother and friends kept making fun of me for how much I would bring this thing up and how many times I watched it to study it and hating it still (goes without saying friends and family bought me Special Widecreen VHS and later DVD, lazy cheap bastards didn’t buy me the Blu-ray though).

    That was years ago. Since then my tastes have changed and I have matured (a little) and WILD WILD WEST and I are on good terms now. I can now appreciate it the good things in the movie: the absolutely stunning cinematography and production design (to be honest I think that’s what kept me going back), fun steam-punk designs (mecha design for you anime fans), Kenneth Branaugh seems to be having a blast and he is entertaining to watch, a genuine appreciation for Selma Hayek’s character and plot arc, and the racial stuff used to turn me off because I thought it had no place in the movie especially such an awful one but I now I’m on Vern’s that I applaud them for actually bringing up such subject matter and actually taking it seriously(!).

    Back in 1999 we all agreed, even down here in the South, that using the Confederate States of America as the bad guys and saying slavery and racism is bad is fair game. If WWW came out today I’m sure there would be a shit-storm about how it stereotypes the South and is unfair to our ancestors and other such non-sense.

    Still I lament not getting the Richard Donner/Shane Black/Mel Gibson version. Vern didn’t mention it but Donner actually directed a couple of episodes of the original TV Series. I always enjoyed watching reruns of THE WILD WILD WEST back in the day so that probably lead to my long-running hate of the movie probably.

    Time to move on and just manly/silently nod in WWW’s direction to convey that you may not be perfect and have tons of problems but (sometimes) your heart was in the right place and did some things good. I hope you can forgive me for my irrational nerd-hatred.’
    -it helps that I honestly felt every movie Sonnedfeld made afterwards was way worse than WWW. Like CJ I weep for the Sonnefeld who was such a unique mainstream voice but like his spiritual mainstream brother (Tim Burton) they have lost way artistically it seems. I still root for them and hope they can bounce back and remind everyone why a big deal was made out of them in the first place.

  7. When this was in pre-production I wanted to see George Clooney as Jim West take on Warwick Davis as Miguelito Loveless. Then the movie happened in a completely different way and I never saw it. If that main screengrab in the review here had been the poster I probably would’ve.

    The image of 6 ft something Will Smith kicking ass in an old west dress which im sure were as uncomfortable to move in as they appeared to be would’ve been both hilarious and an amazing physical feat in itself. I just couldn’t bother watching a movie that not even Will Smith seemed happy to be in at the time.

  8. Dikembe Mutombo

    July 18th, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    “Spider and drag loving producer Peters seemed to flame out in the next decade. He was credited on ALI and SUPERMAN RETURNS, but seemed to be done after paying $3.3 million to an assistant he sexually harassed on the latter. In an interview last January with The Hollywood Reporter, Peters brags that he was banned from the set of MAN OF STEEL but still got an executive producer credit and $10-$15 million. Also that he voted for Trump, obviously. ”

    Hollywood. What a town.

  9. Almost 20 years later before I learned – from this write-up – that Kevin Kline was also President Grant!

  10. Agreed about Smith’s funnyman persona….. it’s painful to imagine what he’ll be like as the genie in this live action Aladdin they’re doing.

  11. I’m assuming the Will Smith summer movie Vern mentioned that he hasn’t seen is MIB III, which I still remember being shockingly good with a surprisingly legit villain and an unexpectedly emotional ending. It’s not a great movie but it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

    As for WWW, I remember always thinking it wasn’t that bad – the action was pretty good and Smith actually comes across as more of a badass than he has in his previous movies (even though I remember Harry Knowles complaining that he Jar Jar Binks-ed his way out of all the fight and action sequences, winning via clumsiness and dumb luck, which makes me think Knowles saw a different movie than I did). I do think the thing that disappointed me the most was Kevin Kline seems out of place and not really into it; it’s definitely a paycheck performance and it just seems like all the creativity and energy from I Love you to Death or A Fish Called Wanda had been sucked out of him. Also remember thinking this was the first modern instance I recall of “love triangle movies where the girl picks nobody”, later seen in stuff like The Rundown or Sherlock Holmes 2.

    Oh yeah, Nine Lives, aka the Barry Sonnenfeld “Kevin Spacey becomes a cat” movie is unwatchable. I actually kinda think it’s not a bad concept and could have been funny or at least good for kids, but it’s just boring and lazy. Definitely the worst Sonnenfeld film by a mile.

  12. BTW, about those reshoots: I remember an interview with Sonnenfeld, where he mentioned that most of the stuff was done to tone down violence. Not on MPAA requests, but before its release was that big shooting at a school (Littleton, I think) and of course the media was blamed for it (not to mention that it was one of those “Oh no, will we ever be able to enjoy violence in movies again!?” moments), so they reshot several scenes of gun violence. From what I puzzled together, there was nothing too crazy cut out, just the typical “the hero shoots first” western stuff, paired with some “Because the hero is Will Smith, he cracks a joke afterwards” moments.

  13. psychic_hits: Are you saying you don’t want a friend like him?

  14. Yeah, what the hell happened to Barry Sonnenfeld? He wasn’t some great director, but he started his career off with some solid hits. The Addams Family movies, Get Shorty, and Men in Black are all solid movies. I didn’t realize until now that he directed the Kevin Spacey cat movie. That’s a hell of a distance to fall.

  15. I hated this like everyone else at the time, despite being psyched for it being young enough to have thought of the first MEN IN BLACK as some kind of cinematic milestone. But a few years ago, this was on constant rotation on British TV and I caught bits of it fairly regularly and it worked its way into my heart. There is a certain HUDSON HAWKish quality to it.

    I really didn’t think MEN IN BLACK III was very good, and am always surprised so many do, although I understand most people went into with low expectations whereas I was actually looking forward to it because of the trailers. There are some good elements, I like that it has a 90s-style big and enigmatic opening, but I thought the production problems were not well hidden by the finished film.

    Anyone else get Barry Sonnenfeld and Barry Levinson mixed up? Or at least struggle to keep their filmographies straight?

  16. KPCS: Barry Sonnenfeld #166

    Dressed in festive St. Patrick's Day attire, director/producer/cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black, Get Shorty) sits down with Kevin to discuss a ...

    There’s one really funny reference to WWW in this at some point. Overall a good interview, talks as much about his career as a cinematographer as his directing. If anyone has FilmStruck or the Criterion of BLOOD SIMPLE, he’s on it a lot with the Coen Bros. talking about their start together on that film.

  17. I also saw this when it came out, and never since, but I also thought it was fairly ok. I certainly didn’t understand why people hated it so much. I remember some frat looking guy in the row in front of me trying to stretch out and take a nap during the giant spider scene–it was a few years before someone in his state of boredom probably would have just looked at their phone. My mind was more on other movies that summer to really defend it, though. Star Wars and The Matrix (which def still had a strong presence in the ’99 summertime), plus South Park came out the same week and Deep Blue Sea was just around the corner.

  18. Majestyk – no, there’s a joke where the first time we see the president he’s actually Artemis Gordon in disguise, and later he puts on the disguise again to try to trick Loveless into thinking the real president is a decoy. So there’s a reason he plays both characters, it’s not just a funny Peter Sellers/Eddie Murphy type thing.

  19. Mark: There’s been a belief for years that most of WWW’s ticket sales were kids buying tickets for that one and then sneaking into SOUTH PARK BIGGER LONGER AND UNCUT.

  20. Well personally I had a lot of fun seeing this in the theater back in 1999, it had Will Smith as a cowboy, cool steampunk shit and Salma Hayek’s (and Bai Ling’s) ass, what’s not for a 9 going on 10 year old boy to love?

    While I agree not all of the comedy works, I definitely think this movie is not nearly as bad as it’s reputation would have you believe.

    Heck, I actually had one of those Burger King sunglasses and some of the Burger King toys, sadly I lost the glasses at some point, which is too bad.

  21. … but the harsh part is that original Jim West Robert Conrad accepted them in person out of hatred for the movie.

    As an unabashed fan of Robert Conrad and the original TV series, I consider this the awesome part.

  22. Does anyone else think part of the reason for the movie’s failure might have been the racially charged humor? This was 1999 after all and most Americans of the groovy turn of the millennium didn’t like to be reminded of America’s dark past at a time when most everyone was so sure the 21st century was to be an America led utopia and the past could be buried and forgotten.

    What I’m trying to say is I don’t think that’s what people and wanted and expected from a summer blockbuster.

  23. That’s actually an interesting theory. Okay, I don’t remember reading any reviews where this was criticized, but maybe it did make people so uncomfortable, that they couldn’t enjoy the movie anymore.

  24. I haven’t watched it since either, but there are certainly worse blockbusters that are lucrative and popular. Though I seem to have blocked out the unfunny cross dressing completely.

    I thought the steampunk contraptions and action were cool. It was essentially MIB in the old west

    Vern, I don’t think you like I Am Legend more than me. It’s my favorite Will Smith movie.

  25. Patton Oswalt said this was his most hated movie, saying he was particularly disgusted with the scene where Will says/suggests “slavery wasn’t that bad”; but there is no such scene, is there?

  26. Not that I can remember. Maybe AICN contributors saw a cut from an alternative dimension, where Jim West was a pro-slavery Jar Jar Binks kind of person?

  27. BTW, it’s easy to forget in 2017, now that Branagh was in a HARRY POTTER, directed THOR and we expect classy stage actors to show up in popcorn movies all the time, but his casting was back in 1999 a bit of a headscratcher. The concept of “serious” actors appearing in movies that seem beneath them wasn’t unheard of back then (Caine, Welles, Bogdanovich, Olivier, Gielgud, Reed and others already did that for one reason or another), but “The current #1 Shakespeare movie guy is in the new Fresh Prince movie” was something, that was heavily talked about in certain filmlover circles.

  28. CJ: That was one of the things that let young me’s guard down. ‘If Branagh is in it then it must be good!’ Like I said I was young and naive.

    I touched on the slavery part a bit in my big post but I will say that I remember reading a bunch of comments about how bringing slavery into the mix was un-needed. Though I suspect that was because of how bad the movie was and thus it was considered in poor taste to bring up such serious subject matter in such a silly (bad) movie. Like I said in my prior post, like Vern I respect it now.

  29. I was just having a discussion with someone about how you can have a 140inch television and a 28 speaker surround system in your house, but you still can’t replicate the film-going experience.

    For example: Wild Wild West

    I saw this at a New Jersey drive-in, accompanied by some really good friends, and fueled with a serious amount of Genny Cream and purple hazel. Therefore, Wild Wild West could be a terrible movie. but I had a really good time watching it, which is permanently implanted in my skull.

    If I would have watched it at home, I would have just watched a bad movie that I would have forgotten in two days.

  30. Er, purple HAZE

    Although, purple hazel sounds like something you get at GNC

  31. I love the scene where they use an upside-down severed head as a sort of slide projector, to try and find out what the murdered man saw just before he died.

    Scientists once truly believed that the last thing people saw before they died would be recorded on their eyeballs. The Symbolist writer Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam write a story (Claire Lenoir) about it; J.K. Huysmans mentions the story in his decadent manual Against Nature.

    And Dario Argento took that theory and ran with it, in Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

  32. While scientists of course have disproven that myth a long time ago, I truly believe that it landed in WWW, because the writers thought it was true. Even today many people seem to believe that, because they saw it in a movie or TV show.

    It IS a cool concept for a fictional story, though.

  33. I just learned that the WWW themed wood rollercoaster, whichs opening was highly advertised back in the day, is still standing in a nearby, movie themed amusement park, but they removed all WWW references. Now it’s just called THE BANDIT and I have no idea if it’s because the movie is too old or the park is now owned by Viacom. They still have a VAN HELSING ride there. (And a brand new Star Trek rollercoaster.)

  34. It’s my favorite Will Smith movie.

  35. I remember when this came out and it was marketed as a fun romp from the people who brought you Men In Black. So Men in Black is a weird movie that hit it big, but it’s quirky weird, endearing weird. And if Edgar-Bug is creepy it’s a sort of other worldly weird and so is a little easier to handle I think.

    WWW certainly has fun romp parts, but so many of its ideas are R rated. It starts off with a decapitation, not the fun buddy comedy running from possibly being decapitated we get later, but a full on Evil Dead run for your life decapitation. Big set piece set in a whorehouse where women are lined up like a slave auction, I guess this could be a great setup for a screwball comedy? The cross dressing isn’t played for laughs, it’s not entirely clear that a “hilarious” Crying Game moment isn’t imminent. Salma Hayek in bondage, the giant mechanical dildo, body horror. There is just the one scene where West points out the wrongness (“a man’s head!”) but we get no such scene for all the rest.

    All the reshoots to add some fun can’t mask the underlying meanness of it all, and I think it implicitly or explicitly (or both) turned people off. I know I’m old and Jon Peters wasn’t necessarily trying to corrupt our nation’s youth with his kinky Hollywood amorality. Or maybe he was, guy clearly has issues.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, Men in Black had the two leads covered in goo at the end. It was fun, it was goofy, and yes it was kind of disgusting but in a fun way. The Greasy Strangler had its two leads covered in goo at the end but it’s not the same, please don’t put The Greasy Strangler in my Men in Black.

    (Although now that I think about it having the two leads covered in goo at the end of TGS was kind of fun, i don’t really know what I’m saying anymore. I’ll sum up by saying that for me the fun parts of WWW are outweighed by the disturbing parts.)

  36. In all fairness, MIB was surprisingly gruesome in parts too, with Vincent D’Onofrio being skinned (most likely alive), an exterminator getting murdered by getting his spray thing shoved down his throat (and dropping dead face down right towards the audience), some guy getting snapped in half and David Cross ending up as a piece of squished slime. WHile they toned that down in part 2, I’m sure part 3 received its PG-13 only because all victims weren’t humans.

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