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Wild plot and wasted talent add to woes in the 'Wild Wild West'

WILD WILD WEST -- ** -- Will Smith, Kevin Kline,Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek, Ted Levine, M. Emmet Walsh, Bai Ling, Frederique Van Der Wal, Musetta Vander, Sofia Eng; based on the 1960s television series; rated PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, nudity, profanity, racial epithets); Carmike 12, Cottonwood Mall and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Sandy Movies 9; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex Crossroads Plaza and Midvalley Cinemas; Redwood Drive-in (with ""The Matrix""); Reel Theatres.

It's plain to see that Barry Sonnenfeld doesn't understand what made "The Wild Wild West" so appealing.That can be the only explanation why his big-screen adaptation of the cult 1960s television series is lacking nearly everything the source material featured in full -- in particular, its naive, even dumb, sense of fun and fair play.

And in its place, this extremely uneven action-adventure/comedy substitutes bigger-is-better (and at-times, overly gimmicky) storytelling, lame visual gags and a surprising amount of sexual material.

Still, it's not the "Wild Wild Waste of Time" that had been rumored by fan-run Internet sites. There are a few exciting action sequences and nifty special effects, and at least it moves quickly, which is getting to be a real rarity with big-budget movies these days.

But even if it's not an outright bomb, the film is still a huge disappointment, considering the level of talent involved. Will Smith steps into the boots of James West, who in the film is a dashing government agent on the trail of Gen. "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine), a former Confederate commander who's been kidnapping the world's greatest scientists.

He soon discovers that there's another person after the general, though, namely Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline), an inventor, a master of disguises and a fellow government agent. It's dislike at first site for West, a brawler, and Gordon, a pacifist who prefers to use his brains.

However, the two men reluctantly join forces when they flush out the real villain: Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a disadvantaged mad scientist who's created a monstrous, steam-driven weapon called the Tarantula, which could decimate the United States.

It's not the worst of premises, but Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") and a whole score of screenwriters never really find the right focus for the film. At times, it threatens to become a straight action piece, at other times it becomes a rather unsuccessful slapstick comedy.

The lack of a consistent tone also seems to frustrate the cast, especially Smith, who can't figure out whether he's supposed to be smirking. And while Kline gets off a few good one-liners, he's undercut by Branagh's ridiculously over-the-top rantings and a surprisingly bland performance by Salma Hayek, of all people.

"Wild Wild West" is rated PG-13 for violent hand-to-hand (and foot) combat, gunplay and explosions, vulgar double-entendres and other sexual humor, female nudity and glimpses of some nude artwork, scattered profanities and use of racial epithets.