Wild Wild West: one of the worst blockbusters of the 90s is coming to Netflix


Wild Wild West (13+, 105 minutes) Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld **

The Wild Wild West was an American television show that ran for five years in the late 1960s.

Described at the time as a cross between Maverick and Uncle’s man, it was a bizarre mix of western tropes and science fiction. The heroes were two Special Agents, the square-jawed John Wayne James T. West (Robert Conrad, whose character’s nickname oddly resembled a certain Star Trek captain) and master of disguise Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin).

Their job was to travel to the “old west” in the 1870s, taking on bizarre villains (most notably Miguelito Loveless) who used Jules Verne-style retro-tech devices in their evil plans. It wasn’t historically accurate, but he had his fans.

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Thirty years after her demise, Hollywood, as part of a wave of nostalgia for 1960s television that also included reimagining Impossible mission, Maverick and Lost in space for the big screen, decided he was ripe for reinvention and hired the world’s greatest movie star to help bring it to life.

The result was a 1999 box office disaster that won multiple Razzies and almost completely derailed Will Smith’s film career (he apparently refused The matrix to do so), a film that needed to be picked up because test audiences didn’t realize it was meant to be a comedy and would only have attracted ticket sales among younger people in the United States. United because they used it as a cover to sneak in the R-rated South Park movie and American pie.

Kevin Kline and Will Smith teamed up for Wild Wild West in 1999.


Kevin Kline and Will Smith teamed up for Wild Wild West in 1999.

Clearly hoping to emulate the success of Men in black two years earlier, the producers decided to team up Smith with another more experienced comedian with gravitas in Kevin Kline (to play Gordon) and brought back MIB director Barry Sonnenfeld. Against the center pair was the aggrieved Confederate inventor, Dr Arliss Loveless (a legless – but not in the sense of Jack Sparrow – Kenneth Branagh). It is revealed that he has kidnapped the best scientists in the country and developed a vast weapon of mass destruction with which he intends to create a divided state of America.

At the time, one of the most expensive movies ever to be made, it’s clear that the entire budget was spent on special effects, as all four writers came up with a story that featured Texas-sized plots. We’re never told how Loveless lost his legs, where the missing scientists were kept, or how he built his weapon.

Even the unmistakable charisma of a Will Smith at his best cannot save Wild Wild West.


Even the unmistakable charisma of a Will Smith at his best cannot save Wild Wild West.

When it comes to acting, aside from the tragic waste of talented Salma Hayek and exaggerated pounding from Branagh, the major issue is the pairing of Smith and Kline. Anyone who decided Smith should play right-hander should have been read in their minds. It just doesn’t work.

As he had proven in everything since The prince of Bel-Air on Independence Day, Smith, especially at this point in his career, had a swagger and a tremendous sense of comedic timing that should have been used here, instead of having a Sophie’s choice and Cry out for freedom– starring, two-time Tony Award winner, playing the part of the goat.

In the end, the only relief is that Sonnenfeld is a director who believed movies should be short.

Wild Wild West is now streaming on Netflix.

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