2 stars (out of 4)
Remakes of classics are hardly ever classics themselves.
Nonetheless, an all-new take on the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven — complete with an eclectic cast — should have been rollicking good times. Denzel Washington! Chris Pratt! Ethan Hawke! Chris Pratt! But no. This version of The Magnificent Seven (opening Friday, September 23) is a ho-hum slog that, on top of everything else, opens itself up to questions about the usage of the word magnificent in its title.
In a dusty town in 1879, a sinister and powerful industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard) is sending defenseless folks into early graves. He even burns down the local church! That’s why a desperate, recently widowed Emma (Haley Bennett, the lone bright spot) asks a warrant officer (Washington) to round up some outlaws and defend the land.
He does so, recruiting everyone from a wily gambler with a knack for handling dynamite (Pratt) to … well, the other five guys are too indistinguishable to register. Here’s the rundown, per the press notes: a Southern marksman known as the Angel of Death (Hawke), an old mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a knife-throwing Korean (Byung-hun Lee), a Native American warrior (Martin Sensmeier) and someone named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). It’s possible that at least two of these characters don’t speak more than seven lines put together.
Kudos to director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) for featuring diversity in the mix — and hey, after all these decades, audiences finally get to see Washington ride a horse. (He’s a natural.) That’s not enough. The movie still needs genuine thrills without resorting to dull, mindless violence.
As such, it moseys along at the pace of a long-in-the-tooth horse. Far too much time lapses as the dudes get acquainted and prepare for the climactic battle. Instead of Washington, say, waxing about being an African American making a living in the old West, Pratt mugs for the camera and speaks drivel such as, “What’s a syllable?” Washington and Hawke fail to share any of their simmering Training Day chemistry. When Hawke ditches the group one night, the impact is nil. A little charisma among any of these men would have gone a long way.
By the time the shootout begins, few will care which dude lives or dies. Sarsgaard’s character is so one-dimensional that he’s a hair away from becoming a stock moustache-twirling villain. Of course he’s not going to live to see The Magnificent Eight. With onscreen tension reaching disappointingly low levels, there’s little doubt we’re watching actors dressed up in period garb and playing cowboy as opposed to a showdown between good and evil.
In the past five years, Quentin Tarantino has given this genre a tantalizing makeover, thanks to the twofer of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Witty and energizing originality is the new sheriff in town. A formulaic effort just will not do.
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