Wild Wild West (1999) (part 3 of 11)
Cut to outside, where a buxom young lady peers into the saloon through a pair of opera glasses, repeating Jim and Kline’s conversation aloud. We recognize her as one of the women from the stagecoach, and she’s identified as “Miss Lippenreider”. Subtle, I know. But she’s perhaps the best character in the whole movie, based solely on her faux, unidentifiable European accent. Observe:
She utters these words to the man in the stagecoach nearby, who you might recognize as one of the best Hamlets of all time, Kenneth Branagh. I’m guessing he doesn’t consider this film one of his career highpoints. Mr. Ponytails (he’s identified as Mr. Hudson, but at this point, who honestly cares?) arrives with his hostage, no longer in the trunk, and restates what Miss Lippenreider has already revealed about the two lawmen.
In response, Branagh eyes the nearby wagon filled with nitro (which, by the way, has somehow turned around, because the cart is now directly on the cliff’s edge). He then picks up a cane that does the most extraordinary thing: it extends like a car antenna. He uses this car antenna to pull the pin that secures the wagon to the horses, and the cart immediately starts rolling down the steep cliff, directly towards the saloon.
Meanwhile, Jim and Kline are still in their standoff. Strangely, everyone else has disappeared, and they’re now standing in an empty saloon. Upon hearing the cart rolling their way, they look at each other and ask in unison, “Now what?” Because, you know, it’s funny… somehow.
The answer comes when the cart crashes into the saloon and the nitro explodes, sending a huge fireball through the saloon. And then… the screen fades to black. Did the heroes just get incinerated? Is the movie over? Can I hope?
Regretfully, no, because the scene shifts to Washington, D.C., and Jim rides into the shot on his horse. So, I guess that massive explosion… didn’t harm anybody? This, by the way, is the first time in the movie (and certainly not the last) that I’ll get the feeling a scene is missing.
Jim rides to the front of the White House, where he tethers his horse to a pole. He then walks through the gate and up a gravel path to the front door, through the front door, and into the main lobby. I think it’s fair to say they’ve beefed up security at the White House a bit in the last 150 years. It’s only in the lobby where someone finally decides letting an armed man walk into the president’s residence isn’t such a good idea.
A guard asks Jim to hand over his gun. Jim allows the man to reach for the gun… before pulling a second gun from behind his back and pointing it at the man’s throat, hammer cocked and all. Jim grins like this is hilarious, before offering the second gun to the man. The man reaches for the second gun… only to have Jim point it at him again. Our hero, ladies and gentleman.
A voice booms from an adjoining office: It’s Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States! Strangely, Grant doesn’t chastise Jim for being a tool, but rather chastises the guard for making Jim late for his appointment. Oh, okay, so I guess Jim’s not an asshole, then.
With his integrity given the presidential stamp of approval, Jim walks straight into the office, with both his guns, no less. Grant wastes little time in pointing out that Jim let McGrath slip through his fingers. Jim tries to pin the blame on Kline. Grant interrupts, finally telling us the name of Kline’s character: “Artemus Gordon”. Henceforth he shall be referred to in this recap as Gordon, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to type a goofy name like “Artemus” over and over again.
The president then speechifies for a long time about Gordon, calling him a “genius” and the “best marshal he’s got”, while berating Jim as a “headstrong cowboy”. This speech is so over the top that the audience figures out it’s not really Ulysses Grant long before Jim does.
Jim points his cocked gun in the president’s face and asks who he really is. Grant insists he’s the president, so Jim shoots at the ceiling. In the White House. (Like I said… our hero, ladies and gentleman.) Eventually, another cocking of the pistol convinces Grant to admit he’s really Gordon himself in disguise.
Gordon wants to know how Jim figured this out, so Jim points to the class ring Gordon is wearing, saying Grant went to West Point, not Harvard. That’s fine, but “the self-ass-kissing speech, that’s how” would’ve more than sufficed as an answer, Jim.
It’s only now that anybody notices a gun was just fired in the White House, and moments later the real President Grant enters (confusingly enough, he’s also played by Kevin Kline). He demands to know what’s going on. Gordon starts removing his disguise—including using a knife to puncture an inflated whoopee cushion under his shirt, fart sound and all—and offers a half-assed explanation of how he was trying to prove how easily an intruder in disguise could penetrate the White House.
Grant utters something inane about Gordon’s intellect killing him someday, and then scolds Jim for his “patented approach of shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more, and when everybody’s dead, try to ask a question or two.” That’s interesting, since the only shot Jim has even fired thus far was at a ceiling.
It’s here that Grant reveals that Jim and Gordon will become buddy cops for the rest of the movie. When they try to object, Grant reminds them he’s Commander-in-Chief, and they’ll do as he says. Our two new buddies follow Grant through a secret doorway into a room filled with wrinkly old men and outdated machinery. I’m guessing this is the CIA.
Grant takes this opportunity to provide clunky exposition, where he explains that the country’s top scientists have been kidnapped by McGrath. He asks why it took Jim and Gordon so long to figure out they were working the same case. Wait, are we sure they’ve actually figured this out?
Jim reveals a competitive streak right away, pointing out he was trying to catch McGrath, whereas Gordon was trying to “marry him”. Actually no, Jim, you were about to shoot McGrath before Gordon happened to stop you.
Grant picks up a note and hands it to Gordon, who reads it aloud. It’s the evil demands of whoever kidnapped the scientists. The note explains that the missing scientists are being forced to create an incredibly powerful weapon, and Grant has one week to surrender the U.S. Government.
Grant points out that the note arrived with a cake shaped like the White House, sealed in a glass container. When Gordon tries to get a closer look at the cake, he backs away when he sees tarantulas are suddenly crawling all over it. Gee, that’s subtle.
Jim declares that McGrath must be behind this, but Gordon believes there has to be an evil mastermind behind McGrath. He thinks they should gather more intelligence. Jim says that McGrath is heading for New Orleans (thanks, random henchman who can’t keep his mouth shut!) and he doesn’t need “intelligence” to know that. Gordon’s reply? “No, you’d rather rely on stupidity.” Burn!
The president informs Jim and Gordon that he’s about to leave for Utah to attend the joining of two intercontinental railroads (obvious foreshadowing alert!). He calls them the “best men he’s got”—and if that’s true, the country is screwed—and asks them to put aside their differences to catch the madman behind this plot. Oh, Grant, don’t you know that our heroes must first allow their personalities to clash in theoretically comedic ways before they can share a moment of bonding and finally realize that they have to work together?
With that, the President’s “best men” are dismissed.
On the way out, a man approaches them and informs them that Grant has given them a train, called the Wanderer, to help them get around. He also gives a round box to Gordon, which is an “item he requested”. Must be a new bustier.