One’s a blockbuster-budgeted remake of a ’60s TV action series; the other’s based on an ’80s kiddie cartoon show. One stars an anachronistically hip Will Smith as a sort of frontier James Bond; the other showcases a convincingly geeky Matthew Broderick as an inept security guard who gets transformed into a gizmo-loaded, half-android crime fighter. Setting aside their obvious derivativeness, you might not think Wild Wild West and Inspector Gadget would have a lot else in common. You’d be so wrong.

Even with several TV seasons’ worth of source material to draw from, West director Barry Sonnenfeld (who did so well with Men in Black) and Gadget director David Kellogg (who didn’t do so hot with Vanilla Ice’s Cool as Ice) wind up employing a lot of the same tired devices to advance their so-called plots. In doing so, they don’t just remind you of action romps from the James Bond movies to (shudder) Hudson Hawk—they also remind you of each other. They’re similar enough to make you wonder if West‘s six writers and Gadget‘s three were using the same Storybuilder software. To wit (or rather witless):

EVIL ARCHVILLAINS They’re diabolical, of course—but also disabled. James West’s nemesis is the legless Dr. Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a demented genius who’s kidnapping top scientists to build a giant, spidery walking fortress that will help him take over the country. Gadget’s foe is the one-handed ”Claw” (Rupert Everett), a megalomaniacal tycoon who wants to borrow Gadget’s bionic technology to create a robo-race that can conquer the world. Predictably, both villains proclaim their plans at such length that our heroes have time to turn the tables.

DISTRESSED DAMSELS West has Salma Hayek as a feisty senorita who tags along with the hero to save her kidnapped scientist father. Gadget has Joely Fisher as the doctor who rebuilt the Inspector and is now helping him catch the villain who murdered her scientist father. Both women end up getting kidnapped themselves, proving that as plot devices, they’re every bit as good as Bond girls.

POP CULTURE IN-JOKES West pays appropriate homage to 007 (”West. Jim West”), but also makes dumb references to the RCA mascot pooch, and to that other hybrid TV Western, Kung Fu. Gadget has its own Bond homage—a cameo appearance by Richard ”Jaws” Kiel—as well as countless other bits that try to cop a cheap laugh by sampling somebody else’s famous movie moment.

SUPER-KEEN ACCESSORIES True to their TV image, West and his partner Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) use such secret-agent aids as belt-buckle derringers, exploding billiard balls, and a spring-action corsage (suitable for punching) concealed on the bosom of Gordon’s saloon-girl disguise. Honoring his animated origins, Gadget sports a different tool in every finger, arms and legs that elongate, and, oh yes, shoes that shoot fireworks—but only when he’s, um, in love.

PLANES, TRAINS, AUTOMOBILES West chugs around in a custom-built railroad car full of secrets and booby traps, while Gordon grafts wings onto a rocket-powered bicycle and dubs it ”Air Gordon” (see Pop Culture In-Jokes); Gadget rides in a computerized car that talks an annoying, KITT-like blue streak.

Theoretically, all this fancy thingamajiggery should set Wild Wild West and Inspector Gadget apart from most recent action fare, if not from each other. Yet because they have so little else on their minds, both movies quickly settle into a videogame-like rhythm that, for all its frantic activity and pumped-up volume, gets kinda boring. The plots don’t develop, the characters don’t develop, the movies don’t develop. They just lunge forward, en route to not-so-grand finales, during which all that gadgetry blows up real good. And that’s how a couple of seemingly foolproof high concepts became just another couple of big, dumb movies that, on video, don’t retain any of their bigness. Both movies: D

Inspector Gadget
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