Seven may be a prime number, but in Hollywood, which has always loved to make its own math, it’s as divisible as they want it to be. So it is that one classic concept, Akira Kurosawa’s iconic 1954 epic Seven Samurai, can be fractioned off infinitely: most famously as a 1960 Western revered in its own right, and now again more than half a century later with a new set of stars, a few fresh ideas, and a lot of the same old arithmetic.
Like its predecessors, this Magnificent Seven begins with a small town under siege: Here, the town is Rose Creek, a dusty frontier outpost straight out of Sergio Leone’s backlot, and the bad guy is gold prospector Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, summoning all the nefarious power of his extra vowels). Just to show how ruthless and godless he really is, Bogue torches the village church, shoots dissenters on sight (Matt Bomer, we hardly knew ye), and promises to return in two weeks for the rest of the land. Rose Creek’s people are good, upstanding folks, but they’re “farmers, not fighters”; young widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) realizes that if they want help, they’ll have to hire it. Enter bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a cat so cool he looks like he could take on the job single-handedly and be done with it by dinner. Instead, he accepts Emma’s bag of gold and starts recruiting his band of freelance avengers: First comes Faraday (Chris Pratt, as a lovably boozy scamp more interested in guarding his flask than the galaxy), followed by the battle-scarred assassin Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke); Billy Rocks (Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee), who actually knows how to bring a knife to a gunfight; outlaw bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); human yeti Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio); and a Comanche who calls himself Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
Having duly assembled his homicide squad, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Southpaw) allows for several breezy, too-brief scenes of team-building before steering the story toward its gleefully bloody and bullet-riddled climax. Though there are a few clever turns in all the methodical mayhem, the final hour ultimately feels like a waste of his charismatic actors and the easy chemistry they share. And as heartening as it is to see a wild bunch so genuinely diverse on screen—the days of the otherwise great Eli Wallach playing the 1960 film’s villain in blatant brownface are far behind us, thankfully—its color-freed casting turns out to be more a tease than a revelation. While the slick script provides some ace one-liners, most go to Washington and Pratt; why not allow Vasquez more than tossed-off muchacho jokes, or give Red Harvest a tenth as many lines as he has arrowheads? A movie like that could have been magnificent. But this Seven’s just silly, solid entertainment: multiplex fun by numbers. B