Wednesday, September 28, 2016


(US - 2016)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Peter Sarsgaard, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, Cam Gigandet, Jonathan Joss, Sean Bridgers, William Lee Scott, Griff Furst. (PG-13, 133 mins)

As unnecessary as almost any remake nowadays, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN brings some revisionist multi-culturalism to the table but little else, instead choosing to coast by on the strength of its cast. And when that cast is headed by the always excellent Denzel Washington, it's enough to get the job done, even if it has zero chance of escaping the shadow of either John Sturges' 1960 original or that film's inspiration, Akira Kurosawa's immortal 1954 masterpiece SEVEN SAMURAI (and, lest we forget, the Roger Corman-produced STAR WARS-inspired variant BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and Bruno Mattei's 1984 sword-and-sandal take THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS). Washington is reunited with his TRAINING DAY and THE EQUALIZER director Antoine Fuqua and his TRAINING DAY co-star Ethan Hawke (also in Fuqua's BROOKLYN'S FINEST), who also brought along his BFF Vincent D'Onofrio (also with Hawke in THE NEWTON BOYS, STATEN ISLAND, BROOKLYN'S FINEST, and SINISTER and a star of the Hawke-directed CHELSEA WALLS), who was in JURASSIC WORLD with Chris Pratt, giving MAGNIFICENT '16 the feeling that everyone involved is having a good time with old friends. That helps, because the story itself is as standard and formulaic as it gets, adding an unnecessary revenge element in the late-going that veers from the sense of selfless altruism and sacrifice that was key to the heart and soul of SEVEN SAMURAI and MAGNIFICENT '60. It undermines it to a point where you feel that Washington's character has essentially lured these other six saps on a suicide mission, but that's probably putting more thought into this than Fuqua and co-writers Nic Pizzolatto (TRUE DETECTIVE) and Richard Wenk (THE EXPENDABLES 2 and, yes, THE EQUALIZER) had in mind. MAGNIFICENT '16 isn't likely to be mistaken for a great western, but it's entertaining, fast-moving, and the cast--most of it, anyway--is solid enough to help gloss over the bumps along the way.

In the years following the Civil War, the small frontier town of Rose Creek is under siege by malevolent robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who couldn't be any more predestined for villainy if he was named Snidely Whiplash. Bogue wants to commandeer a nearby gold mine and offers the citizens either $20 each for their parcel of land, or death, giving them three weeks to decide. When Bogue and his henchman murder several of the town's men in cold blood, including rancher Matthew Cullen (Matt Bomer), Cullen's widow Emma (Jennifer Lawrence lookalike Haley Bennett) ventures to the next town to hire bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), offering him every penny Rose Creek has to take on Bogue and his goons. Chisolm recruits local gambler and wiseass Josh Faraday (Pratt) and they in turn bring in others--sharpshooter and Civil War PTSD case Goodnight Robichaux (Hawke), his knife-throwing Asian pal Bobby Rocks (Byung Hun-Lee), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), eccentric tracker Jack Horne (D'Onofrio), and (noir/hard-boiled guy Pizzolato really showing some Dashiell Hammett love here) Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a lone Comanche cast out by his tribe. They arrive in Rose Creek and send a message to Bogue by killing all of his regulators charged with keeping an eye on things. Together with Emma and her husband's friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes), these seven warriors establish a bonding camaraderie as they fortify Rose Creek, training the terrified residents to defend themselves, knowing the nefarious Bogue is on his way with a few hundred men to level it and massacre everyone.

It's a story that's been told so many times that there's nothing in the way of surprises, and the new additions don't really fly, whether it's the incongruity of the melting pot make-up of this post-Civil War motley crew or the late addition of a Chisolm revenge subplot that makes his reasons for doing this personal. The actors are generally good, with Pratt brought on to be Chris Pratt and Washington being the fearsome and intense badass that he always is in Fuqua films. Looking thin and frail, Hawke's Goodnight Robichaux seems to be going for a Val Kilmer-in-TOMBSTONE riff that never materializes, and Lee, Garcia-Rulfo, and Sensmeier don't really get any defining characteristics other than being Asian, Mexican, and Native American, respectively. A madman-bearded and typically mannered D'Onofrio, who too often overacts rather than acts these days, turns in a grating performance, using a high-pitched, wheezing squeal that seems to be his idea of an insane Andy Devine. A sweaty, twitchy Sarsgaard is gifted with a great western bad guy name in Bartholomew Bogue, but is otherwise pretty one-dimensional, coming off like a stock western baddie version of Gary Oldman's crazed DEA agent in THE PROFESSIONAL. It also doesn't make any sense that, after losing about 150 guys in the attack on Rose Creek to gunfire and explosive booby-traps lined along the town's perimeter, only then does Bogue order his few remaining toadies to bring him the Gatling gun to mow down dozens of Rose Creek citizens. Why wouldn't he just use that in the first place? MAGNIFICENT '16 also ends on a sour note that reeks of studio meddling, with a completely needless coda featuring voiceover by Bennett's Emma, culminating in the dumbest invocation of a movie's title since I AM LEGEND faded to black with Alice Braga narration declaring "This is his legend." MAGNIFICENT '16 works just fine as empty calorie, junk-food cinema, and Washington's gritty persona carries it far enough that you can't imagine the sense of sheer mediocrity the entire project would convey without him.

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