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This Freshly Diverse 'Seven' Ups The Firepower

Sep 23, 2016
Originally published on September 23, 2016 2:43 pm

Movie remakes have not been setting the world on fire lately. The all-gal Ghostbusters will maybe break even. Ben-Hur and Tarzan each cost — and lost — a fortune. So what's Hollywood pushing this weekend? The Magnificent Seven, a remake of a remake — admittedly, one with a decent pedigree.

In Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), a pickup band of seven sword-wielding rōnin are hired by a Japanese farming village to protect it from bandits. Only three of them walked away at the end.

In the original The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges made it seven gunslingers protecting a Wild West town from Mexican banditos. Only three of them rode out.

Now comes The Magnificent Seven the remake, and though the plot's essentially unchanged, the filmmakers have made some clearly intentional updates to their time-honored formula. No banditos this time. The bad guy is a greedy U.S. capitalist named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). And the good guys? A rainbow coalition: Asian knife hurler (Byung-hun Lee), Hispanic outlaw (Manuel Garcia Rulfo), face-painted native-American archer (Martin Sensmeier), a Confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), a guy described as a bear in people's clothes (Vincent D'Onofrio), and a goofball gambler (Chris Pratt), all led by silky-smooth bounty hunter Denzel Washington.

Actually, I say Denzel Washington leads this band of variously grumpy, dopey and bashful dudes, but they're actually in the employ of a woman this time — that's another change — a woman I started to think of as a particularly aggrieved Snow White (Haley Bennett). When asked if she seeks revenge, she says she seeks righteousness, but she'll take revenge. Whistle while you work on that.

Though much of the film was shot in Louisiana, there are crags and wide open plains enough that the Old West vistas and the artfully shot mayhem look appropriately majestic. If you're going to have church bells crashing down from flaming steeples, director Antoine Fuqua is definitely the guy you want behind the camera.

He previously teamed up with Denzel Washington on the contemporary shoot'em-ups Training Day and The Equalizer, and he seems to really relish the sight of his star riding a horse (or even just walking beside it). At one point, Washington quietly says something like "go on, horse" and his steed obligingly saunters away to give him a clear shot at a bad guy.

As you might expect, the firepower is significantly increased this time out — I don't recall a Gatling gun in the 1960 version — and the climax, pitting Bogue's thuggish army of 200 against the town's nobly heroic seven is, let's say "explosive."

If body count is what you go to Westerns for, by all means drift into this one's corral. It's hardly magnificent, and apart from its casting it's not doing anything particularly original with its premise. But it's diverting in about the way you'd expect of a remake twice removed — call it a perfectly competent seven.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Movie remakes have not been clicking with audiences lately. The new "Ghostbusters" will maybe break even. The latest versions of "Ben-Hur" and "Tarzan" each cost and lost a fortune. So what is Hollywood pushing this weekend? The magnificent - "The Magnificent Seven," which NPR critic Bob Mondello points out is a remake of a remake.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In "Seven Samurai," seven warriors with swords walk into a Japanese village to protect it from bandits.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SEVEN SAMURAI")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Japanese).

MONDELLO: Only three will walk out. In the original "Magnificent Seven," seven gunslingers ride into a Wild West town to protect it from Mexican banditos.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN")

ELI WALLACH: (As Calvera) I leave these people a little bit extra, and they hire these men to make trouble.

MONDELLO: Only three ride out. Now comes "Magnificent Seven," the remake with some clearly intentional updates to a time-honored formula. No banditos this time - the bad guy is now a greedy corporate capitalist named Bogue, and the good guys - a rainbow coalition - Asian, Hispanic, Native American, a Confederate colonel, a guy described as a bear in people's clothes and a goofball gambler, all led by Denzel Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN")

DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Chisolm) You tell Bogue, if he wants his town, come see me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

MONDELLO: Message presumably received. Actually, I say Denzel Washington leads this band of variously grumpy, dopey and bashful dudes, but they're actually in the employ of a woman this time - that's another change - a woman I started to think of as a particularly aggrieved Snow White.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN")

WASHINGTON: (As Chisolm) You seek revenge?

HALEY BENNETT: (As Emma Cullen) I seek righteousness, but I'll take revenge.

MONDELLO: Whistle while you work on that. The Old-West vistas and the artfully shot mayhem are appropriately flashy. If you're going to have church bells crashing down from flaming steeples, director Antoine Fuqua is the guy you want behind the camera. He previously teamed up with Denzel Washington on "Training Day" and "The Equalizer." And he seems to really enjoy watching his star ride a horse or even walk beside a horse. He also lets Chris Pratt crack wise.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN")

CHRIS PRATT: (As Josh Faraday) Danny dead - pity. I had just ordered a drink from that man.

MONDELLO: As you might expect, the firepower is significantly increased here. I don't recall a Gatling gun in the 1960 version. And the climax is - let's just say explosive. So if body count is what you go to Westerns for, by all means, drift into this one's corral. It's hardly magnificent.

And apart from its casting, it's not doing anything new with its premise. But it's diverting in about the way you'd expect of a remake twice removed - a perfectly competent seven. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.