If there’s one genre that’s still sputtering to take off again, it’s the western. While there have been a few that were better than others — The Proposition, True Grit, Bone Tomahawk, and Quentin Tarantino’s double whammy of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight — it feels like Hollywood is going back to the drawing board by introducing a new generation to The Magnificent Seven. Unfortunately, not even the usually reliable Antoine Fuqua, or stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, can save the film from being modestly mediocre.
While you may feel like you’re having a good time watching, it’s instantly forgettable and pales in comparison to the original. The fact that the original theme song isn’t even used until the end credits should show you how much effort was put into this rehash. The saddest part is it’s just a reminder of how faithful Pixar’s A Bug’s Life was to Akira Kurosawa’s legendary Seven Samurai.
The story remains the same: in a small town — this time Rose Creek — the evil mining tycoon Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has gunned down Emma Cullen’s (Haley Bennett) husband Matthew (Matt Bomer), a few other townsfolk, and set the local church on fire. He threatens the town that he’ll return in the fall when the last… leaf… falls… err, I mean in three weeks. The grieving Emma is left with no choice but to call upon bounty hunter Chisolm (Washington) for some good old revenge.
Chisolm has no plans to go at it alone, and soon enough, his misfit gang is in place to save the town. Along for the ride is the wiley Josh Faraday (Pratt), the drunken Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his Asian sidekick Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), the bearish Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), hispanic Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and American Indian Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeir). Together, they’ll all join forces to take Bogue down and return the town to its people.
If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from Fuqua, it’s a little bit of technical razzle dazzle and a good amount of fun. After the pairing of him and Washington in The Equalizer and Training Day — which also starred Hawke — and the addition of Pratt, you’d think that we’d have one of the funnest westerns around. All we’re left with is a slapdash screenplay courtesy of Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective). They both clearly love the story, but kill the one thing that holds everything together: the town’s plight. Never once do we care about whether Rose Creek is saved from the Bogue varmint. Not once.
It’s a shame the only one who really seems to be having any fun is Lee. Try as Pratt might, even he doesn’t stand up to being the comic relief Fuqua clearly expected. Not that it’s his fault. The screenplay relies far too heavily on outdated racial slurs for comic effect and puts no effort into dialogue or situations. Even the action feels sloppy under John Refoua’s editing knife. Scenes either meander too long or feel extra rushed. Even some of our poor protagonists’ demises feel shortchanged as if they were merely extras.
My only hope is that Sony Pictures learns a thing or two from this Magnificent Seven blunder and give director Nikolaj Arcel the freedom to keep the western aspects of his adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower as western as it should. While Magnificent Seven may not be of the same sorts of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it’s at least not Jane Got a Gun bad. I would refuse to say it could be called Mediocre Seven, but doggone it, I just gone and done it.