Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Stepford Cowboys

From the campy 1970s comes our next movie, Westworld, airing on TCM tonight at 10:30 PM ET.

The scene is the vacation resort of the future, only it exists today. At the resort, one can live out one's historical fantasies of any of a number of periods, such as Roman World, Medieval World, or Westworld, based on the American West. One can live out these fantasies thanks to a new series of super-duper animatronic robots that can cater to guests' every need, but are perfectly safe. (Yeah, right. If they were really safe, we wouldn't have a movie.) Richard Benjamin and James Brolin play two of the resort's patrons, staying at Westworld, where they can engage in safe gunfights, seducing barmaids, and the like.

That is, of course, until a computer glitch causes all the robots to go haywire, attacking the humans -- not only the guests, but the people running the resort too! Leading the charge is Yul Brynner, who plays a ruthless, emotionless killing machine bent on chasing Benjamin to the end of the park. Brynner looks a lot like he did back in The Magnificent Seven, and that was quite deliberate. The story, however, is somewhat predictable, with robot cowboy chasing hero vacationer until the eventual showdown.

Westworld looks dated 35 years on, but in this case, that's not a drawback. This isn't a movie about the special effects, but about a simple bad guy/good guy pursuit that could have almost any setting. Benjamin and Brolin are fine, although they don't really have all that much to do. Brynner is excellent. It's probably harder to play having no emotion than it is to ham it up on screen. After all, we all know what joy, fear, or despair look like. But who among us has ever tried to be robotically efficient? That's the task given to Brynner, and he pulls it off well.

In short, Westworld is just a whole lot of fun. True, there's not much to it, but it falls into the class of movies you don't have to think much about, and just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy. It was directed and written by sci-fi writer Michael Crichton, who would of course go on to much bigger things. It's also available on DVD, should you miss tonight's showing.

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