Chris Pratt is a movie star. At one point, this was controversial or even inconceivable, but now it is completely undeniable.
In past films he’s starred in, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World,” he’s been able to shake off the persona that got him this fame: “Park’s and Recreation” character Andy Dwyer. But here, in “The Magnificent Seven,” he somehow has reverted to Dwyer playing dress-up. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the easter egg section on IMdB it said that Burt Macklin was a descendent of the character he plays in this.
Pratt isn’t the only actor with to be problems in this film. Lee Byung-hun (from great Korean films such as “I Saw the Devil” and “A Bittersweet Life”) falls into, what I’ve been calling since seeing “Suicide Squad,” the Katana issue – where an ethnic character is completely spoken for by a white dude. In this case, it’s Ethan Hawke. But far worse than either of these two is Vincent D’Onofrio. His performance is indescribable; he appears to have a speech impediment and seems to be speaking English as a fifth or sixth language. Denzel Washington as the lead escapes mainly unscathed, as his cool presence makes him appear distant from the disastrous film happening around him.
It’s hard to watch a Neo-Western without thinking of Quentin Tarantino’s influence on the genre, even one that’s a remake of a classic era Western (which itself is a remake of the Kurosawa film “Seven Samurai”, which, despite being in black and white and Japanese, really is the prototype to modern popcorn cinema). Denzel certainly has some Django in his performance, and the plot of gathering together a group of desperados is hard to disassociate from last year’s “The Hateful Eight.” Both of these films are miles above the failed “Magnificent Seven” reboot, and as it pales in comparison, it is hard not to wish one was watching those instead.
It’s not that there isn’t fun to be had here. The big final shootout has plenty of joy in it; watching all the planning pay off (or not) is certainly not without it’s own sort of glee. In that segment, the film succeeds in being a fun enough summer picture. But it doesn’t last long. Peter Sarsgaard’s villain comes in and dashes any hope of fun to be had. His evildoer is one that is cruel simply for cruelty’s sake, opening the film by burning down a church and beating up a preacher, as if to make sure the audience hates him significantly. Here, in the final ten minutes, he reveals a character motivation for Denzel’s role that is hinted at throughout the film slightly, but really feels completely unnecessary and as though it was a studio note to make sure the audience really gets that, again, this is a bad guy.
I’ll leave you with a notable quote from Sarsgaard: “If god didn’t want them to be sheared, he wouldn’t of made them sheep.” Well, if god wanted movies like this made, he wouldn’t of made movie critics.