Wild Wild West

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writer: S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman
Warner Bros; PG; 107 minutes
Release: 7/99
Cast: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek

There's something very American about the July 4th blockbuster Wild Wild West: cheery ahistoricism mingled with the belief that anybody bearing enough charisma and wit (hence Will Smith in the title role of Jim West) will triumph over any and all barriers. The plot is a polyglot confusion of genres: James Bond and the Men in Black meet Inspector Gadget, or Godzilla, or Clint Eastwood, depending on when you look. Debonair black lawman West (Smith) and his gizmo-wielding sidekick (Kevin Kline) duel with a Nazi-esque steam-powered supervillian played to the hilt by Kenneth Branagh. Smith, cashing in on his sexy competence and soundtrack royalties, can do no wrong, and most of the pleasure of Wild Wild West comes from watching his swashbuckling cool. Salma Hayek, as the becorseted love interest, is certain to turn heads as well.

The setting? Utah six years after the Civil War, a renegade land crawling with giant mechanical spiders and other special effects knickknacks. The narrative is messy and underdeveloped, but the sheer joyfulness that comes with discarding reality and shamelessly conjuring up a box-office hit is hard to resist.