Given all the robotic cowboys blasting at our precious brain cells, one wouldn’t be rash in assuming Antoine Fuqua got his Yul Brynner Westerns mixed up by giving us “Westworld” instead of his promised remake of “The Magnificent Seven.” If there’s a pulse emanating from a single member of his high-faluting, all-star cast it’s undetectable. Even charismatic Denzel Washington is more cogs and bolts than flesh and blood. How could this happen? Depressingly, the answer lies in Hollywood’s kowtowing to the whims of a nation that prefers the cacophony of gunshots over the sound of the human voice. When these heavily armed himbots load up, it’s not with spark or charisma, but with a vapidness that lulls you into an ambivalent stupor. The guns are the stars and the actors simple props to hold these arms tight enough so they can’t be pulled from their cold, dead hands. It’s truly depressing — and an insult to an exclusive property that was taken to the heights of excellence, first in Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” and then John Sturges’ 1960 “Magnificent” remake that inventively moved the story from 16th century Japan to 19th century Mexico.
Fuqua’s version settles for a bland, vacuous space somewhere in the West. Why Peter Sarsgaard’s colorless robber baron, Bartholomew Bogue, would want to get his clutches on this lifeless land is a mystery. But, by God, he’ll kill everyone to add it to his win column. In that respect, he’s the de facto Donald Trump, except that Trump is actually scary. Bogue, not so much. In fact, I seriously doubt he’d strike fear in anyone. But that’s not Sarsgaard’s fault. He’s already proved he can send shivers with his murdering homophobe in “Boys Don’t Cry.” The overmatched Fuqua (“The Equalizer,” “Training Day”) merely directs him into an assemblage of wishy wash.
From the first moment we spy Denzel’s “warrant officer” Sam Chisholm, it’s clear the black man in black could wipe the floor with the simpering Bogue. Yet, the title demands that Sam roundup six similar badasses to take him down and save the cowardly townsfolk of Rose Creek from ruination. That means wasting the first 40 minutes watching Sam summon his motley crew of outlaws, none of whom possesses a hint of a personality. Rather, they’re all types: The old fat guy (Vincent D’Onofrio badly in need of a spa), the chopsocky Asian (Korean pop star Lee Byung-Hun), the stoic Indian (Martin Sensmeier), the shell-shocked Civil War vet (a clearly bored Ethan Hawke), the Mexican felon (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), the wisecracking booze hound (Chris Pratt), and the proto-feminist widow (Haley Bennett flashing generous cleavage). Hey, wait, doesn’t that add up to eight, as in the infinitely better “The Hateful Eight?” Well, yeah, but who’s counting? It’s clearly — with the exception of D’Onofrio — a very pretty bunch. But they’re all as plastic as dolls; in essence a set of Village People Barbies. I half expected them to break out in an impromptu rendition of “YMCA,” which, by the way, would have been better than anything in a movie that’s as low on energy as Jeb Bush. Blame much of that on co-screenwriters Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, who — hooray — created season 1 of HBO’s “True Detective,” but — boo — created season 2 as well. Unfortunately, we get more of the latter from Pizzolatto, who favors violence and macho posturing over substance. If only he could give us a reason to care.
He can’t, because he and Fuqua have delivered nothing but cowboy droids with heads as empty as their chests. And without brains and hearts, what have we got? I’ll tell you what we’ve got; and it ain’t magnificent — it’s mechanical; a cheesy trinket made of nothing but tin.
“The Magnificent Seven)
Cast includes Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Chris Pratt and Haley Bennett.
(PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.)