Count to “Seven.”
That would be “The Magnificent Seven,” though despite a voice-over at the very end invoking the term “magnificent” in awe-struck tones to describe all that has gone before, I prefer “a great deal of fun” as the better way to characterize the proceedings.
Building on the sturdy narrative foundation provided by Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic “Seven Samurai” — a village under siege by bandits rescued by seven brave warriors — director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) spruces up the Western hero tropes found in John Sturges’ equally classic 1960 “Magnificent Seven.” He also mixes in quite a few nods to Clint Eastwood’s body of work, including moments that evoke “Hang ’Em High,” “Pale Rider” and especially “The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” The result is a simplified but highly enjoyable picture, packed with sweeping Western vistas and massive quantities of gunplay.
The most Eastwoodlike element of this new “Seven” is Denzel Washington, stepping into the Yul Brynner role as the black-clad ultracool leader of group. His hard glare is Eastwood tough, and his air of steely authority evokes memories of the Man with No Name. Dressed all in black with a great broad-brimmed black hat, he rides into the picture out of a desert’s heat risers like Omar Sharif in “Lawrence of Arabia.” (Another nod to another classic.) We’ve seen the image before, but it’s a powerful one and it’s good to see it again, carried off with such style.
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The new seven are more ethnically diverse than in Sturges’ picture, and this time all the action is kept north of the border. No gringos are killing Mexican bandits in Mexico in this one.
There’s an Indian (Martin Sensmeier), an Asian (Byung-Hun Lee) and a real Latino (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a welcome corrective to the hilariously weird miscasting of German Horst Bucholz as a Mexican in the Sturges version.
A lot of fun, particularly for those familiar with the Sturges’ version, is figuring out which guy matches up with his counterpart in the original. The wisecracking Chris Pratt is a more broadly comical version of Steve McQueen’s character. Ethan Hawke is even more twitchy than Robert Vaughn as the gunman who has lost his nerve. Lee has a fine moment reprising James Coburn’s character in the knife versus pistol duel. Vincent D’Onofiro’s weird Bible-thumping mountain man has no comparable figure, but is much more memorable than seemingly superfluous Brad Dexter.
What the picture lacks is a villain comparable to Eli Wallach’s bandit chief Calvera. Peter Sarsgaard’s character is a loathsome citizen-murdering, church-burning evildoer without a hint of complexity. He shows up at the start and then promptly disappears for most of the rest of movie. There is therefore, not much dramatic tension of good versus bad here.
Still, Fuqua’s remake is a worthy successor to the ’60s “Seven.” He even has Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score play over the end credits. And thus is homage appropriately paid.
The Magnificent Seven
☆☆☆ ½ out of 5
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett.
Director: Antoine Fuqua.
Running time: 2:13.
Rated: PG-13, for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.