The Magnificent Seven review: Dumbed down and far from magnificent
This has been a topsy turvy year for movies. Where one would expect complete success, we've been handed failure. Instead, it's been the unheralded small budget movies like the recent The Shallows and Don't Breathe that have emerged as the true winners.
The Magnificent Seven follows that same trend - it was sold as a fun, old-school Western. But it never truly musters up the courage to reach its potential despite the stellar cast.
A remake of a remake - the 1960 movie with the same name was based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, the plot is more or less the same - a town being threatened by land-grabbing villain Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, looking far more ridiculous than you've ever seen him) reaches out to Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who's sort of a state-sponsored bounty hunter.
It shouldn't be surprising at all that Denzel Washington is at the centre of the movie - after all, director Antoine Fuqua was the man behind two Denzel vehicles - Training Day and The Equalizer.
He then assembles a ragtag seven-member team to take on Bogue's 200-odd men: you get former Confederate Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Josh Faraday (Pratt), who's a loveable rogue with quick fingers; knife-throwing assassin Billy Lee (Lee Byung-hun), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel García-Rulfo), Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), "a bear in men's clothing"; and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).
It's a pretty diverse crowd - but somehow it feels like an empty gesture since the movie, despite being set in the 1870s, when America was pretty racist, never truly gets into trying its hand at that debate at all. What's worse, the diverse group plays along to every stereotype that could be applied to them in every possible way.
Rose Creek also seems to accept these misfits far too easily. So we're just supposed to swallow the fact that Rose Creek is completely unprejudiced for an all-white town back then.
In fact, in a year where the race debate has been revived like never before in recent history, the fact that the 1960 Magnificent Seven had more to say on race than the new version is completely off the mark. Sam, for being a black man, is modelled on Christoph Waltz's wise-cracking character from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained - essentially, far too white in his mannerisms and behaviour.
But, better yet, in a year where the gun debate reached a fever pitch after multiple shootings in the US, The Magnificent Seven is a magnificent reminder of how much Americans love their guns. Each man in the movie, whether he knows how to shoot or not, is armed to the teeth and does the whole Western eye squint dance before reaching for their guns. And, unsurprisingly, the number of dead just keeps piling up. Despite that, it's not too bloody; hence, the PG13 rating.
In fact, Denzel's Sam puts it quite succinctly: "I don't carry my gun because I'll end up using it."
Pretty much every Western cliche has been stuffed in, right from the eye squints to many shoot-'em-ups. In fact, there was so much eye squinting sometime in the mid-section, that it almost began to feel 'K serial' like with the way the frame hovered over each actor for over three seconds at a time.
The music score, inspired by its predecessors, fits the movie like a glove, but it's the CGI which is disappointing (luckily, it isn't in 3D).
This far from being Denzel's finest performance - he's good, for sure, but it just never pulls together. Chris Pratt works for the comedic relief, but not as often as you'd think.
Whatever you do, don't leave before it ends completely. There's this narrator bit which I swear will make you burst into peals of laughter.
It's a romp in parts, a little too obvious and boring in others, but I still have no doubt that some segments of audiences are going to love it. It is still good old-fashioned entertainment.