Wild Wild West (1999 movie: classic film retrospective).

Wild Wild West – the steampunk spectacle that left audiences scratching their heads faster than a mechanical spider on steroids. Imagine a world where Will Smith and Kevin Kline team up in a bizarre blend of Western, sci-fi, and slapstick, all while battling Kenneth Branagh’s legless villain who’s more obsessed with world domination than the script is with coherence.

Set in a fantastical version of the Old West where steam-powered tanks and giant mechanical spiders are somehow normal (because, why not?), the film starts off with U.S. Army Captain Jim West and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon on a mission to stop an ex-Confederate villain known as “Bloodbath” McGrath. Yes, “Bloodbath” – subtle wasn’t their strong suit.

Things take a turn for the weird when they uncover Dr. Loveless’ (Branagh) diabolical plan to dissolve the United States and divvy up the territory among every major power and himself (because why not aim for the moon when you’ve got a giant spider?). Loveless, equipped with mechanical legs and an overacting license, becomes the perfect foil for Smith’s eyebrow-raising one-liners and Kline’s attempt at playing dual roles, including a baffling stint as President Ulysses S. Grant.

Critics panned it like a clumsy circus act, with Roger Ebert deeming it a “comedy dead zone” and Janet Maslin pointing out its lack of emotional connection – probably because emotional depth doesn’t quite fit when your film’s climax involves a showdown on a precarious mechanical spider over a cliff.

But hey, it’s not all bad. Salma Hayek adds some much-needed charm as Rita Escobar, the damsel who’s not quite in distress, and the visual effects team clearly had a blast with all that steam and metal. And who can forget the iconic flop of the year, the song “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith himself, which even won a Razzie for Worst Original Song? It’s like they aimed for campy fun and missed, landing squarely in the territory of bewildering absurdity.

In the end, “Wild Wild West” remains a cautionary tale of what happens when a film tries to ride too many genres at once without a saddle. It’s a steampunk train wreck that’s now more infamous than famous, reminding us all that even with a $170 million budget, you can’t steamroll over a lacklustre script and expect audiences to buy tickets.


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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