Wild Wild West

AT THIS POINT, Smith could probably release a home video on this particular weekend and still draw lines around the block. After ”Men in Black” and ”Independence Day,” he owns the Fourth. This summer, though, he won’t be battling aliens; he’ll be having a close encounter with an 80-foot steam-powered tarantula as secret agent Jim West, the coolest portrayal of a 19th-century special government agent since Robert Conrad played the part on the 1965­69 Bond-meets-”Bonanza” CBS series. Which brings us to the one catch: Younger audiences don’t remember it.

“You won’t need to know the TV show to get the movie,” Sonnenfeld (”Men in Black”) promises of his $100 million adaptation. “It’s just a really great story. Cool guys, cool gadgets, cool stunts, girls with lots of cleavage–it’s got everything.”

Of course, casting Hollywood’s most popular African-American actor as a federal agent in the year 1867 added a tricky new dimension to the original TV text. “The first thing I said to Barry when he offered me the part was that there’s a big difference between Robert Conrad and myself,” says the star. “And Barry just said, ‘Yeah, I know, you’re a lot younger.’ But we do handle the race issue in the movie. We deal with it comedically.”

At least one thing will remain unchanged, though: Once again West will save the world from the evil Dr. Arliss Loveless, the gizmo-crazed genius originally played by dwarf Michael Dunn. “Short though I am, I’m not a midget,” says Branagh of his interpretation of the role. “So my character doesn’t have any legs. He lost his lower body in one of his experiments and is now strapped into this elaborate gadget-packed wheelchair. And he’s very sexually frustrated at having lost his, um, package.”

Well, then, it doesn’t have everything–which may explain the reshoots.

Wild Wild West

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Barry Sonnenfeld