Rose Creek, 1887. Terrorised by robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard), the townspeople send newly widowed Emma Cullen (Bennett) to find a band of men crazy enough to tackle him. Enter dead-eyed bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington), chirpy gunslinger Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) and five more lethal recruits.
If remaking one classic is tough, remaking two at the same time feels like an impossible mission. So it proves with Antoine Fuqua’s heavy-handed retread of the team-up yarn that birthed both John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Lacking the froth and fun of the former, and the humanist joys of the latter, it’s replete with pyrotechnics, slickly choreographed gun battles and a body count that would make even Peckinpah rub his eyes, but has little fresh to say about the genre it homages and a mirthless way of saying it.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s rolly-polly tracker is the exact midway point between Mongo and the bear from The Revenant.
The set-up, as anyone who’s spent a bank holiday in front of the telly will know, has bad’uns leeching off a small Western community. Driven to desperation, the locals hire gunmen to end their torment. The zeitgeisty villains are mean-eyed capitalists with a mining concern led by robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard). Even by Western terms, he’s irredeemable (and this is a genre that once saw Henry Fonda gun down a child in cold blood), announcing himself by slithering into a church meeting and informing the locals they’re “standing in the way of God”, before killing several of the congregation and setting fire to the place.
Played with sleepy-eyed malevolence by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is the scumbag the Seven must take on. Of the posse, Denzel Washington, strapping on the spurs of Yul Brynner’s leader in the original, and Chris Pratt, a looser McQueen-alike gunslinger with a snappy line in lethal card tricks, get the most screen time as they set about assembling a crew to take him down.
Washington’s Training Day mucker Ethan Hawke, afflicted by the same PTSD as Robert Vaughn in the original, gets the deepest backstory as a Civil War veteran dubbed ‘the Angel Of Death’. Byung-hun Lee’s assassin, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican outlaw and Martin Sensmeier’s Comanche loner are defined mainly by their killing skills. Having the most fun is Vincent D’Onofrio, whose savage yet rolly-polly tracker offers the exact midway point between Blazing Saddles’ Mongo and the bear from The Revenant.
Unlike Sturges and Kurosawa’s films, both of which sketch out their baker's half-dozens in a series of quieter vignettes, Fuqua rushes to get to the business at hand. Oddly, the posse’s ethnicity barely warrants mention, despite offering much potential for peppery comment on America’s prejudices. How the script could use a slug of the risk and irreverence Blazing Saddles, Little Big Man and, more recently, Django and The Hateful Eight have brought to the genre.
And the showdown itself? The improv mayhem of Saving Private Ryan’s final battle is a clear touchpoint, as is The Wild Bunch’s famous climax, but with a 12A rating in mind, it’s an oddly bloodless swirl of bullets even as the bodies pile up. The emotional investment that should make the Seven’s gallantry noble and moving isn’t quite there. They deserve better.
Slick but forgettable, Fuqua’s suicide squad is a macho posse movie that could use a jab of fun. It’s The Magnificent Seven, but the “magnificent” is silent.