What the Hell Were They Thinking?!

Why don’t more movies have big-ass mechanical spiders? Academy Award nominees Will Smith, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek and Academy Award winner Kevin Kline star in Wild Wild West.

Wild Wild WestCast of Characters:
Capt. James T. West – Will Smith
U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon/President Ulysses S. Grant – Kevin Kline
Dr. Arliss Loveless – Kenneth Branagh
Rita Escobar – Salma Hayek
Gen. “Bloodbath” McGrath – Ted Levine
Coleman – M. Emmet Walsh
Miss East – Bai Ling

Director – Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay – S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
Based on characters created by Michael Garrison
Producer – Jon Peters & Barry Sonnenfeld
Rated PG-13 for action violence, sex references and innuendo

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In 1869, U.S. Army Captain James T. West (Will Smith) and U.S. Marshal/inventor Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are on the hunt for “Bloodbath” McGrath (Ted Levine), a Confederate general wanted for mass murder throughout the Southern United States. The plot thickens when during a meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline), they learn that McGrath’s crimes are only a piece of a larger puzzle that includes the disappearance of the nation’s top scientists and a treasonous plot by the diabolical genius Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh).

I could go on and on about this $200 million disaster, but I think filmmaker Kevin Smith during a Q&A on his involvement in the canned Tim Burton flick Superman Lives from An Evening with Kevin Smith sums up the thought process behind Wild Wild West better than anything I could ramble on about (the video is about 30 minutes long).

“For those of you who don’t know, ’cause this is going back a few years now, back in like ’96, ’97. At one point, I was commissioned by Warner Bros. to write a script for a new Superman movie… So he’s (Lorenzo di Bonaventura) like, ‘You know what? We’re gonna give you a shot at shot it.’ And I said, alright. Awesome. And he says, ‘It’s pending approval of the producer.’ And I said who’s the producer? And they said Jon Peters. I said alright. What do I gotta do? They say, ‘You gotta go meet with him.'”

“Now Jon Peters – if you don’t know – he’s the producer on movies like – he’s the executive producer on Rain Man. He was the producer on Batman. He was the producer on The Main Event, the Barbara Streisand boxing movie, which is how he got his start in the business. He used to be Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser. And then one day he became a producer, because in Hollywood you kinda fail upwards… So anyway I’m going to meet Jon Peters, and I go to his place and he very much – he was hardcore producer on Batman. He was there every day; it was kinda his baby from beginning to end. And when you get to his house, it kinda shows because it’s kinda like driving up to Wayne Manor. This is a big mansion through woods and shit like that, and it looks like there’s a holographic cave to one side.”

“So I come down and sit down with him and he says, ‘They tell me you got a take on Superman?’ I said I do, and he says, ‘Let me hear it.’ And I tell it to him, and after a while I’m done and just nodding – looking at me nodding and he goes, ‘You know why you and me are gonna do such a good job on Superman? Because you and me, we get Superman. You know why?’ I said no, and he said, ‘Because you and me… we’re from the streets.’ Now I grew up in suburban New Jersey. Never saw a black man ’til I was about 28 – like I’m the farthest thing from the streets there are. You know, I grew up on a street, but not on the streets. So I said who do you see playing Superman? And he goes ‘If I had to cast it right now… Sean Penn.'”

Just wait. It gets weirder.

“So I was like… Spicoli? And he’s like ‘Yeah, did you see Dead Man Walking? Look in his eyes in that movie because he’s got the eyes of a violent, caged animal, the fucking killer.’ And I was like… dude… it’s Superman… He says, ‘I got some directives for you if you’re gonna move forward on the process – some things I want you to do and don’t do on the script. Three things. One, I don’t wanna see him in that suit. Two, I don’t wanna see him fly, and three, he’s gotta fight a giant spider in the third-act.’ And I’m like let’s go back to one. When you say you don’t want him in the suit – he’s like, ‘Don’t wanna see him in it. Looks too faggy.’ I’m like no fags on the street I take it, but I don’t say that ’cause I want the fucking job. So he’s like, ‘Flying. Flying, I don’t wanna see him fly.’ I’m like, well that’s kinda – the suit and flying define Superman. He said, ‘Don’t wanna see it. Don’t wanna see him flying. No scenes where he’s flying around carrying people. Horse shit.’ I’m like, alright, alright, no flying… but the spider intrigues me. Why that? He’s like, ‘You know anything about spiders? Well, they’re the fiercest killers in the insect kingdom.’ I’m like what’s that got to do with our non-flying Superman? And he says, ‘Because there’s gonna be a scene in this movie, a scene that I want. When I saw King Kong when I was a kid, there’s a scene where the doors open up and King Kong’s revealed. It’s a real big moment. I want that moment in this movie. I want some doors to open up and a big, fucking spider is there.'”

“So I went back to Warner Bros. and sat down with them, and they said, ‘We heard from him (Peters) and he likes you; we’re gonna hire you and move forward… Did he bring up the spider?’ I said, yes! He did! He brought up the spider! He tell you guys about the spider? They’re like (rolling his eyes), ‘Every day with the fucking spider.’ I said what should I do? They’re like, ‘Just do it, but try not to call it a spider. Can you call it something else?’ And I was like… Thanagarian Snare Beast? They’re like, ‘There! Go!'”

“So I go back up to fucking Wayne Manor, and I sit down with Jon… So I start reading and since it’s Superman I tend to use the term Superman a lot, and I didn’t wanna keep doing that. It gets a little boring, so being a comic book fan, I changed it up. Called him Kal-El when he was on Krypton, Man of Tomorrow, Man of Steel, shit like that. So I’m reading the first few pages when he was on Krypton when he was a baby, ’cause I have to redo the origin, and it’s Kal-El this, Kal-El that and he’s like, ‘Wait a second… Who the fuck is Kal-El?’ I’m like Kal-El is Superman. And he’s like ‘Alright… why?’ I’m like that’s his Kryptonian name (looking confused)… Krypton’s where he’s from. He’s like, ‘Right, right, right, fucking planet – boom.”

“So we go back into it and shit and I read it and when I’m all done he’s like, ‘Alright, I think we got a movie here. The problem, though, you’re missing some action beats. You need an action beat every ten pages. Something big has to happen.’ I said what are you thinking about? He said, ‘Well, it’s just an example, but you have a scene where Brainiac goes to the Fortress of Solitude looking for Superman. Brainac’s looking for him and something should happen. There should be a big fucking fight.’ And I’m like but Superman’s dead at this point, and he’s like, ‘I know. I know, but can’t he fight something else up there? I’m like well… what? He’s like, ‘What about – like Superman’s guards or soldiers?’ And I’m like why would Superman need guards? He’s Superman… and plus, it’s called the Fortress of Solitude. Nobody’s up there. And he’s like ‘Jesus Christ, okay, where is it? The Antarctic? What about polar bears?’ I was like polar bears? He said, ‘Yeah, have him fight some polar bears. Brainiac shows up, gets in the fortress, polar bears come at him and he just fucking kills one, and one runs away because we don’t wanna piss off the PETA people.’ And I said you want me to write a scene where Brainiac is wrestling polar bears? And he said, ‘Yeah! You know anything about polar bears? Polar bears are the fiercest killers in the animal kingdom.'”

“So I get done with my first draft and send it in… but when Tim Burton signed on to the project, Tim Burton says he’s gonna bring his guys on to write a script. So they (Warner Bros.) tell me Burton wants to go another way with a new writer… I wasn’t really that upset ’cause I worked on it for two drafts and I got to hang out with a really fucked up, kooky dude, a dude who I could tell stories about for the rest of my life… And it was fun. I got to work on Superman, and got incredible access into the DC archives, and people would give me free Superman shit all the time ’cause I was working on it. Then I got shit-canned off, and started throwing the Superman stuff away ’cause who really needs to be reminded… But I was really reminded the next summer when I went to the movies and saw a movie that Jon Peters had produced… and it was called Wild Wild West… So I’m sitting in the theater, watching the movie. I’m like good Lord, this is a piece of shit…”

“But then all of a sudden… like a giant fucking spider shows up!”

It’s a long speech (it’s longer in the video), but one I felt was imperative. See, only a train wreck like Wild Wild West could be conceived by a mind as warped as Jon Peters. This is what you get when the studio gets behind a big-budgeted concept – in this case, a giant fucking spider – and forget everything else that goes into making a competent movie. The fucked up vision Peters never got a chance to bring to rotted fruition for Superman Lives is on display here like a horrific crime scene.

In fairness to the studio, you can understand why Warner Bros. would be willing to just toss essentially a blank check at this project. Both Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld had just recently done the highly imaginative sci-fi/comedy Men in Black, which was both a box office and critical hit, so the folks at WB probably figured they had the same kind of gold mine that Columbia Pictures had on their hands with MIB.

And hindsight is always 20/20.

Though this monumentally idiotic film, which is based on the widely popular TV show from the ’60s, is laugh free (four writers and not a damn one of them can eek out a single laugh) and possibly plotted by way of a spinning wheel of ideas devised by junior high boys (Spin one: Kevin Kline in drag, Spin two: Gratuitous Salma Hayek ass shot, Spin three: Giant penis-looking machine, Spin four: Giant fucking spider), a drinking game could pass the time for you in the hopefully unlikely event some cold-hearted bastard holds a gun to your head and forces you to watch this film. Bottoms up any time…

  • The film mistakenly believes its viewing audience is blind and goes out of its way to remind us that Will Smith is black.
  • Salma Hayek is sexually harassed by Will Smith, Kevin Kline and pretty much every other actor in the film (okay, it’s Salma Hayek, so that one’s understandable).
  • Kenneth Branagh mangles the scenery like the mama bear from The Revenant that kicks DiCaprio’s ass (I like to think, or least hope, that a Shakespearean actor such as Branagh sees the utter stupidity that no one else involved sees in this film).
  • Kevin Kline dresses up in a goofy disguise in the hopes no one will notice that Academy Award winner Kevin Kline has sold his soul to the Devil in signing on to this film.

At the very least, Will Smith gets to pimp out another closing credits rap song, as I’m sure his contract demands guaranteed him. Just like the closing credits to Men in Black, it’s Smith rattling off some squeaky clean bull shit about the film’s plot during the verses, then repeating the film’s three-word title during the chorus.

Hey! Hey! Yo! Yo!
Jim West and Artie Gordon making inventions
Gosh dang! There’s a big flippin’ spider
Cheese and rice! Rita’s rocking that bod… but I’m sure she’s gotta a great personality and a strong sense of independence to match ’cause I don’t objectify woman – hey! Hey!
Heck! Loveless is gonna kick the president’s butt
Racism’s wrong
I don’t cuss in my songs – whoo!

Wild Wild West!
Wicky wicky wild!
Wild Wild West!
Cast my kids for the sequel!

Little known fact: Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in favor of this film.

Of all the bloated, big-budgeted disasters, Wild Wild West stands as one of the worst. It wastes every bit of attached talent as they struggle to provide anything even remotely entertaining, a struggle that, though painful, is nowhere near as exhausting as the struggle it will forever be for them in trying to erase this blemish from off their resumes. Proven director? Check. Talented cast? Check. A shit-ton of money thrown at the screen? Check. Any of it amounting to anything worth a shit? Nope.

But at least it’s got a mechanical spider. You just can’t have enough of those.

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