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Magnificent? Not quite, but a more accurate title -- say, The Perfectly Average Seven -- doesn't pack the marketing punch needed to sell the latest retelling of a very familiar story. This time around, Training Day and The Equalizer director Antoine Fuqua hops in the saddle for a star-studded yarn, lassoing previous collaborators (Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke) and some shiny new wild cards (Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio) for a dependable, unsurprising account of blood-soaked frontier justice, delivered by heroic outlaws who are known for their quirky personalities, as well as their lethal hands.
It's 1879, and the mid-sized mining town of Rose Creek finds itself under the manicured thumb of the maniacal and frigid Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, who sadly disappears for the duration of the movie after a scenery-chewing opening scene). There's plenty of gold coming out of the Rose Creek mines, and Bogue's intimidating the locals into selling their land for pennies on the dollar. The few men brave enough to stand up to this crooked land thief ended up dead, so now the populace cowers in fear.
Salvation for Rose Creek begins with one woman, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who cooks up a longshot of a plan. Emma uses the last of the town's finances to hire an entrepreneurial bounty hunter (Washington), who recruits some guns of his own. And before long, the streets of Rose Creek play host to a bloody -- and I do mean bloody -- stand off between the forces of Sort Of Right, and the thugs of Oh So Very Wrong.
Have you heard that summary before? That's because the plot of The Magnificent Seven already powered a previous Western starring Yul Brenner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen that hit in 1960, and that movie additionally was lifted from Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai released in 1954. Suffice it to say, this isn't hallowed ground. It's actually been tilled and recycled numerous times, meaning there's a familiarity to the proceedings that walks the line between comfortable and wearisome. Fuqua, however, specializes in gritty stories of questionably moral men who dig down deep and rise up against corruption, and evil forces. I wouldn't be surprised if the original Sevens, both Magnificent and Samurai, were enormous influences on Fuqua as he started making his own movies, so an updated adaptation likely sounded inevitable.
Except, the term "remake" has become a dirty word, thanks to spurned efforts such as Ghostbusters and Point Break, and The Magnificent Seven isn't going to convince a lot of detractors that the rehash concept holds a ton of promise. Fuqua's take on the vengeance drama is cold-hearted and ruthless, with the reality of death lurking around every corner for each character -- whether they be a supposed hero, a clear-cut villain of an innocent bystander. Character development is thin amongst the ensemble, particularly when Washington recruits the men on his mission. Quite often, people join the crusade because the movie's title demands that there be seven by the time the final battle arrives.
Fuqua's approach is by-the-book, so we immediately appreciate any time an actor attempts to scribble in the margins and go off of the page. Ethan Hawke hides some tantalizing secrets as a war hero with a mysterious past. And Vincent D'Onofrio immediately grabs us by the lapel with his high-pitched dialogue delivery. His character, Jack Horne, is a bear of a man who tackles and stabs with reckless abandon, and I'm convinced that every line of dialogue he uttered was improvised, because it rarely fits the action of his particular scenes... and yet, it works.
Chris Pratt, meanwhile, is fed the film's laugh lines, but he's too much of a "Movie Star" to blend into the rugged character-actor motif that the dusty Western requires. He tries, but his lawless swagger comes off as an act, while the likes of Washington, Hawke and even Sarsgaard pull the same attitude off with ease. Additionally, when Pratt's paired with Bennett -- who strikes me as a Junior Varsity Jennifer Lawrence -- I could only think of Passengers, the sci-fi romance that marries Pratt and the actual J-Law, due in theaters later this year.
Basically, with Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, you get exactly what you paid for, but many of us have paid for it at least two times before. This is a meat and potatoes Western, with two ladles of gravy poured over the top to fill in the narrative cracks. Its macho ensemble isn't trying to reinvent the wagon wheel. They just aim to retell a recognizable, infamous and forceful vengeance tale. And to a certain extent, they have succeeded.
The Magnificent Seven opened the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.