Antoine Fuqua is a curious dude. He made one very good movie in his first eight attempts. That, of course was Training Day, which won an Oscar for its star, Denzel Washington. After that though, Fuqua had a lot of misses.
That is, until recently. Fuqua made Olympus Has Fallen in 2013. It’s not a good movie, but it made a lot of money. In 2014, he and Washington teamed up again for a big screen adaptation of the television series The Equalizer. It was a lot of fun and made nearly $200 million at the box office. Last year, Fuqua released Southpaw starring Jake Gyllenhall. It was well received by critics, and again, it made a lot of money.
So Fuqua, on a career uptick, is a hot commodity again. That means he can pitch the projects he wants to studios. Why he wanted to pitch an update of one of the most beloved westerns ever made is beyond me, but he got his pal Denzel on board, so this weekend sees the release of a re-imagined version of The Magnificent Seven. Literally, the title and the overall theme of hired guns protecting poor villagers is the only thing this movie has in common with John Sturges’ 1960 masterpiece.
Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter hired by a mining village to rid them of an evil land baron trying to drive the residents out of town. Sam recruits Josh Faraday, a drinker, a gambler and an amateur magician played by Chris Pratt, who has absolutely no business being in a period film. The whole time you’re watching him you have one of two thoughts. It’s either “Hey, it’s Bert Maclin!” or “Hey, it’s Star Lord!”
Pratt and the two townspeople that hired Chisolm set out to find Goodnight Robicheaux, a Cajun gunslinger and Confederate veteran played by Ethan Hawke. Say, wasn’t he also in Training Day? Robicheaux has taken to hustling gun fights with the help of his friend Billy, played by Byung-hun Lee. Chisholm sets out to find Vazquez, a Mexican bandit, played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who Chisolm is supposed to collect a bounty for. When Chisolm finds Vazquez, he offers to forget he ever saw the criminal, if Vazquez will join the team.
The other two members of the seven join by pure happenstance. Vincent D’Onofrio plays John Hunt, a legendary Indian hunter and bear trapper who agrees to join the fight in order to combat his loneliness. Finally, Chisolm persuades a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest, played by relative newcomer Martin Sensmeier, to join their fight instead of starting one of his own against six better-armed men.
If this movie had any other title I would tell you that it was a fun tribute to The Magnificent Seven. That’s not what this movie is though. It’s a story about a rainbow coalition of seven men who have a similar mission to Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, et al. As a result, it kind of feels like an insult to anyone who loved the original.
One of the things that defines this movie is all of the goofy banter that happens either off-screen or between two lesser characters in a crowd shot. It plays like the last night of a high school production of Our Town and everyone is trying to make each other laugh during the wedding or funeral scenes. Who cares? It’s senior year!
There’s a lot of goofy nonsense at work here - wacky bullet pings, talk about how white people be crazy, big over the top facial acting. None of it really adds anything to the movie. It’s all kind of distracting to tell you the truth.
Speaking of distracting, one of the villain’s head goons is played by Jonathan Joss. You may not recognize his name, but you know his face. He played Raymond Firewalker on Walker, Texas Ranger. More importantly, he was both Ken Hotate in Parks & Rec and John Red Corn on King of the Hill. So, take your pick. The guy has three hilarious things distracting you from his goal, which is to be menacing.
The movie itself isn’t bad. It has its fair share of laughs and is no dumber than most “band of misfits rallies to defeat an army” movies. It’s just that it isn’t The Magnificent Seven. That movie is so very good. This one is so very average.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.