Mon. Sep 28th, 2020

Worst Picture/Best Picture: Wild Wild West and American Beauty (1999)

“My biggest regret in seeing this film is that wish I could have warned you earlier not to see it. I’m sure there are several movie fans out there right now who unwittingly fell victim to this movie, and are at this moment still lying in bed with the covers pulled over their heads, swearing they’ll never go to the theater again as long as they live.” – GMonkey, IMDb.com

“American Beauty — which is all about the American Dream going rotten and families falling apart — has an intoxicating confidence and flow, gorgeous images and bracing irreverence.” – Michael Wilmington, The Chicago Tribune

Guns N’ Roses

Finally, I’m done with those 1998 films and talking about that evil sexual assaulter Harvey Weinstein, now I can get back to normal. Let’s see, what do we have for 1999? Wild Wild West starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline? Okay, okay, not bad, it might be a little tough but I think I can work with it. And American Beauty starring Kevin…. goddammit. Fine, let’s just get this over with. Like 1975, 1976, and 1994, 1999 is considered a stacked year for memorable and iconic films. With such titles as Fight Club, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, The Blair Witch Project, and The Sixth Sense, the year was filled with pop culture phenomena. Along with those trend setting films, did these top prize winning films at the Oscars and the Razzies also have a lasting impact? Look closer while I tell you about a couple of bad boys.

Directed by newcomer Sam Mendes, American Beauty isn’t your average Best Picture winner. It’s a dark comedy that dabbles in difficult subjects including homosexuality and pedophilia. I’m sure it was very intimidating, but star Kevin Spacey somehow managed to pull it off beautifully. Spacey plays pathetic suburbanite Lester Burnham, this character is the highlight of his film career, it’s all downhill from here. A boring guy with nothing memorable to his name, this is the story all about how his life got flipped-turned upside down.

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and based on the classic 1960s TV show, Wild Wild West reteams Barry with his Men in Black star Will Smith. It is 1869 and Smith plays Captain Jim West, a rebellious charmer who’s been chasing after ex-Confederate General Bloodbath McGrath (Ted Levine). Apparently the one-eared slimeball, with a tiny phonograph sticking out the side of his head, is responsible for the butchering of an entire village, including West’s parents. After having a little fun in a water tower and showing us a glimpse of Little Willy’s Willy, West has finally caught up to his prey, sneaking into the Gentlemen’s Club that McGrath is hanging out in. But little does our hero know that US Marshall Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) is also after McGrath. A master of disguise (or so he claims), Gordon is dressed as an escort and equipped with fake boobies and all. As if I didn’t have to deal with enough crossdressing already with Shakespeare in Love. While Artemus’s dress wasn’t made of human skin, he still managed to catch McGrath’s eye.

The magazine executive Lester is married to real estate broker Carolyn (Annette Bening), a nitpicky and strict homeowner with a Karen haircut who thinks her husband is pitiful. But she’s one to talk, thanks to her successful competitor Buddy the Real Estate King (Peter Gallagher), Carolyn’s not that great at selling houses anymore. In fact, after one particular failed open house, Carolyn cries her eyes out and then slaps herself in the face repeatedly, screaming at herself to stop acting like a baby. Coincidentally, Annette recreated that scene a few months later on Oscar night. Their daughter Jane (Thora Birch) doesn’t think too fondly of her dad either, but then again, she’s pretty miserable in general, living in home that has candlelit dinners every evening while listening to extremely dull elevator music. Pretty depressed in general, Jane figures maybe if she got breast implants she would be a little more cheerful. But I don’t know why she wants to spend all that money on surgery, she just needs to get a hold of Artemus Gordon, he can help make her boobs bigger.

While Jane is on her computer looking at ads for different size breasts, McGrath is looking at some breasts himself, unfortunately they’re Artemus Gordon’s and they’re literally hypnotic. Right as he’s about to figure out what dastardly deeds McGrath is up to, Gordon’s plans are ruined by West crashing the party and causing a huge ruckus at the club. As our two heroes accidentally bump into each other and have an unfortunate introduction, McGrath manages to escape. Having unsuccessfully caught the evil General, West heads to the White House to see President Ulysses Grant. Or at least a partially built White House, it’s still being completed, but I’m sure once it’s finished nothing bad will happen to it, especially while Will Smith is around. In the Oval Office, West starts talking with the President, but soon realizes it’s in fact that pesky Gordon in disguise. Though, coincidentally, Kevin Kline also plays the actual President in the film, so he’s playing dual roles. Kline sure is showing quite the range by playing both the president and a person impersonating the president. When the real President Grant finally appears, West and Gordon are told they are to work together to solve the case of who’s behind the kidnapping of all the country’s greatest scientists. Because as we all know, the leader of our country need the scientists.

Phew, that’s a lot of set up compared to Lester’s world. Lester’s been sleepwalking through life until one night he and Carolyn go to see Jane’s cheerleading at the high school basketball game. Initially wishing he was anywhere else, that immediately changes when Lester sees Jane’s friend and fellow cheerleader Angela (Mena Suvari) perform. Completely infatuated with her, Lester starts having erotic fantasies of the teenage temptress stripping nude and firing a torpedo of rose petals at him. On the way home from the game, Jane walks up to her house and notices that her new neighbor Ricky is recording her with his handheld camera. Upset by the creepy guy, she gives Ricky a flash of the birdie.

Back in the wild, wild west, Jim and Artemus are trying to settle their differences after a rusty introduction. Sure, Jim punches Artemus a couple times and Artemus responds with a couple failed attempts at some karate moves that he obviously didn’t learn from West’s son, but for the most part, they’re getting along. Trying to rescue all the kidnapped scientists, Artemus gets an idea when he retrieves the severed head of one of the unfortunate scientists. He has discovered that by hooking up the head to a projector he created, the final image of the dearly departed can be displayed through its eyes. Knowing that, I really have to be careful with what I’m looking at on my computer if I’m about to die. Unsurprisingly, Bloodbath McGrath was the last thing the scientist saw, however, along with that greasy General, they were also able to see an in invitation in his pocket to a costume ball in New Orleans. The duo get aboard Artemus’s gadget filled train and are off to Louisiana.

Unfortunately, Lester’s world hasn’t been as exciting, at least not yet. Getting dragged by Carolyn to a realtors business function, he’s getting bored out of his mind. Luckily, neighbor Ricky is there as a bartender, introduces himself to Lester, and asks if he wants to smoke some weed. So while Carolyn schmoozes on with the Real Estate King, Lester takes Ricky up on that offer. Getting high and giggling out back, the two talk about random things, including the scene in the film Re-Animator where the decapitated head of the scientist does a little cunnilingus on a helpless victim. Thankfully the decapitated scientist didn’t do that to Artemus Gordon. After his trip down memory lane while tripping balls, Lester finds his wife and the unhappy couple head back home. At home, Jane has invited Angela to spend the night, much to Lester’s hidden delight. Passing by his daughter’s room, he overhears Angela annoying Jane by saying her dad could be sexy if he lifted some weights, and if he did then she’d pounce on him so quickly. Getting started right away, the horny husband flees to the garage to reunite with the dumbbells he hasn’t seen in years.

While the party in New Orleans didn’t have bartenders equipped with quality weed, at least the attendees here got to wear costumes. West and Gordon arrive just in time to discover that McGrath is the least of their troubles. It turns out that the one behind the kidnapping of all the scientists is ex-Confederate officer Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) and McGrath is merely a henchman working for him. Though Loveless is an engineering genius, he also happens to be legless, moving about in a mechanical wheelchair. The only thing creepier than Loveless’s bottom half is his bizarre goatee and his even more bizarre accent. Most likely upset that he didn’t get cast in last year’s Shakespeare in the Love, the Shakespearean actor Branagh jumped at the chance to play a Southern fan of the Confederacy whose character also for some reason invites a bunch of rich British socialites to the party demanding they pay him all the money in the world. Take that, Harvey Weinstein. West and Loveless have a small talk of insulting each other while Gordon is elsewhere dressed as some bearded Russian ready to do the squat dance any minute. Unfortunately, just like their first encounter with McGrath, it turns out West and Gordon really suck at solving cases, because things don’t go as planned and they have to get the hell out of there before they’re killed by Loveless’s henchwomen. Of course, before he leaves, West has do some stand up at his own lynching to please the white patrons. But back on the train, our two heroes managed to get a new companion, Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek). Rita was at the costume ball because Loveless had kidnapped her father, one of the infamous scientists. Or something like that, she really has no point in being in the film.

It turns out Ricky hasn’t just been filming Jane, but he’s been filming everything else on the planet, including Lester working out. In fact, one of the walls in Ricky’s room is decorated with hundreds of his recordings. Though, along with his tapes, he’s also been making quite a lot of money on the side selling all that weed, unbeknownst to his father. Ricky’s father, Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), is a homophobic military freak who’s also been keeping a close eye on his son, giving him drug test on a bi-yearly basis. Such an untrustworthy father. Parents just don’t understand.

Thanks to Rita’s information, West and Gordon figure out that Loveless is heading to Utah, so they’re on case, again. And with that, Rita is now a completely useless character for the rest of the film, except to show a part of her bare ass from time to time. While yes, Loveless is heading to Utah, he takes a pit stop elsewhere in the country to test his newest weapon, a deadly steam-powered tank, and he uses McGrath’s soldiers as target practice. Obviously not pleased with what just went down, McGrath confronts Loveless, but the handicapped hooligan responds by killing the General. Man, so far our heroes have screwed up several of their stakeouts, allowed one of the scientists to get beheaded, getting vital information from some random dancer because they couldn’t get it themselves, and now the person they’ve been hunting for months if not years is finally defeated, only because the other villain killed him. They really suck at their job. No wonder the President of the United States hired them.

While West and Gordon have been working on trying to stop Loveless, Lester has been working on his pecs. Along with working out constantly and getting in shape, Lester’s been smoking weed and having a blast. Realizing his life’s been going nowhere, he found out a way to blackmail his dick of a boss at work into giving him a year’s salary. Then he quit his job, bought a Firebird, and started jamming to 70s rock like Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower and Stevie Wonder’s I Wish. As Lester’s getting jamming to the classic hits, the rest of his family are having some fun of their own. Jane’s gotten past Ricky being a weirdo and now they’re dating and watching all of his exciting videos he’s recorded, such as plastic bags floating in the wind. And Carolyn’s been having some transactions with her competitor Buddy in the hotel bedroom as well as shooting a gun from time to time like she was in the wild, wild west.

Though Carolyn’s having success with the King, the Fresh Prince isn’t doing so hot in the desert. I could go through all the endless plot points that took place since we last saw our heroes, but let’s just say things went south, Loveless captured the President and Rita on his giant mechanical spider monster, and West and Gordon have to figure out how to fix everything as usual. In order to defeat the apocalyptic arachnid, Gordon decides to build an airplane with a bike and some sheets and wires. Makes sense. The dynamic duo hop onto the apparatus and are in pursuit of Loveless.

Meanwhile, back at the scandalous suburbs, there’s more sex, lies, and videotapes. Our curious Colonel Fitts is starting to suspect his Ricky is up to no good. Though he doesn’t have a projector and a decapitated head to help with his suspicions, he does have the wall of tapes his son made. Picking a random one, he sees footage of sweaty Spacey lifting weights naked in his garage. And our beefy bodybuilder has made some discoveries of his own. After quitting his successful career, Lester got a simple job at a fast food restaurant so he wouldn’t have to do any hard work, and lo and behold, the adulterous Carolyn happens to stop for some food with her majesty at that very location. But because Les is turning a new leaf, he doesn’t mind too much, though Carolyn thinks otherwise.

Landing on the titanic tarantula, the two split up, West fights all the steampunk punks and Gordon fights Loveless’s wicked wenches. While West is successful on his end, Gordon fails us usual and gets captured. So of course, how would our distinguished army vet go about saving the day? Why, strapping on some fake boobs, putting on a wig, and working his mojo of course. Sure, Loveless has a hold of all of America’s greatest scientists, a batch of England’s rich elite to give him mountains of money, the President of the United States ready to give him his own large slice of the country, and a fire breathing death machine, but a random masked maiden who happened to get on board of this metallic monster is not concerning at all. Dancing about and whipping his hair back and forth, the wiggly West manages to distract Loveless and free Gordon. See, wearing a mask can save lives.

Back in the burbs, Lester if feeling fit as a fiddle. Jealous that his wife and daughter are getting so much action while he’s only had his hand as company, our horny hero is ready. Luckily, Carolyn’s nowhere to be found at the moment and Jane just happened to invite the angelic Angela over for the night. And even better for Les, it’s her day off from filming American Pie, so she doesn’t have teenage studs on the brain. As he goes into the garage to do some last minute lifting, he’s surprised to be met with the creepy Colonel waiting outside, ready to confront him. After a little odd chit chat, the Colonel gives Lester a big smooch on the lips. Flattered and maybe even a little curious, Lester tells the feisty Fitts that he got the wrong idea and the two go their separate ways. Meanwhile, Jane and Angela have been bickering with each other in her bedroom which is interrupted by Ricky running into the room. It turns out prior to his daddy’s desires in the garage, the two got into a huge argument and Ricky decided to leave the house and never come back. He asks Jane if she’ll run away to him to New York, to which she quickly agrees. Angela tries to say how much of an awful idea that is, but the two future runaways tell the bitch to shut up and she storms off. The young high school student heads downstairs where Kevin Spacey awaits, what could possibly go wrong?

Back on the eight-legged transformer, things surprisingly seem to be going smoothly for our two heroes. And while Loveless was made out to be the main villain in this action packed extravaganza, when his wheelchair turns into a mini transformer of its own and he looks terribly menacing, West basically pulls a wire loose and the Southern racist is defeated. Well that was quite the letdown. West and Gordon have finally saved the day, the president is free and so is that random Rita that everyone completely forgot about. Hoping she’d join them on their love train, it turns out that Mr. Escobar the scientist wasn’t her father, but was actually her husband. But that didn’t stop Jim West from begging, after all, he’s okay with open relationships. Rita says goodbye to the horny heroes and all they’re left with is a new job as presidential secret service agents. They ride off into the sunset on their new spider monster, still bickering with each other, probably because they know there’s never going to be a sequel.

Meanwhile our other horny hero is in the kitchen hungry for love. He hears some music in the other room and discovers Angela there. After a little better chit chat, Lester wouldn’t mind a smooch on the lips from her. But before they fulfill their urges, Angela mentions the little tiny fact that she’s a virgin. Well, that just killed the mood, and Lester decides not to through with it, after all, even he has his standards. The two say goodbye, and Lester is pleased with himself. Alone in the kitchen, he looks at picture of his family and he seems pretty happy. Unbeknownst to him, a gun pops up right from behind him, and one moment Lester’s alive and then like that *poof*, he’s gone. Though originally it looked like it was Carolyn who committed the deadly sin, it was in fact the closeted Colonel. While it seemed like a downbeat ending, ghost Lester informs us that he’s not too upset with the way that things turned out. But the same thing can’t be said about Kevin Spacey.

In the end, how would I compare the two films? Well, both films are stuck in their time period. Wild Wild West, filled with cowboys and steam engine trains and um, steampunk spider monsters, is stuck in 1869. And American Beauty, filled with handheld cameras and beeper numbers and Gameboys, is stuck in 1999. But I’d say Wild Wild West has more going for it. Along with Will Smith, the blockbuster titan, and a big budget, it had lengthy, theatrical music video, Wild Wild West was obviously going to succeed. Meanwhile, all American Beauty had going for it was that it had a similar title to that other 1999 hit American Pie. Maybe if Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening had gotten jiggy to an American Beauty music video, then perhaps it would be a better film. But as is, Wild Wild West takes the crown. Regardless, both films sure did show a whole lot of ass. Sometimes there’s so much booty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it.

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