Lightweight ‘Magnificent Seven’ entertains with guns blazing

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Denzel Washington (left) and Chris Pratt in “The Magnificent Seven.” | MGM/Columbia Pictures

What with all the shootin’ and the stabbin’ and the bow-and-arrowin’ and the killin’ in “The Magnificent Seven,” perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film:

It’s rated PG-13 for “extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material.”

Ah, Western violence and historical smoking. Got it. Does your film get a different rating if it contains modern violence and present-day smoking?

Of course, if Antoine Fuqua’s bullet-riddled remake of John Sturges’ great 1960 Western (which of course was a reimagined take on Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”) had included naked breasts and/or multiple f-bombs, it would have been slapped with a R rating.

But hundreds of violent deaths without any nudity or big-time swearing? Then you’re good to go with that PG-13.

Stay warped, MPAA.

Not that I’m offended by the ear-splitting, body-spilling, town-destroying gunplay in “The Magnificent Seven.” This ain’t pattycakes — nor is it particularly insightful or memorable as anything more escapist entertainment. (With just a touch of commentary on modern-day politics. Here’s looking at you, Mr. Trump.)

Over all, this is a rousing, albeit sometimes cheesy, action-packed Western bolstered by Denzel Washington’s baddest-of-the-baddasses lead performance, mostly fine supporting work, and yep, some of the most impressively choreographed extended shootout sequences in recent memory.

Saddle up and shoot ’em up. That’s your movie right there.

“The Magnificent Seven” is set in the mining town of Rose Creek in 1879. The normally reliable Peter Sarsgaard wildly overplays his role as the perpetually sweating, squinting, sociopathic robber baron Bartholomew Bogue. This guy’s so evil he waits until half the town is meeting in the church, just so he and his henchmen can saunter in and he can offer $20 take-it-or-leave it for every parcel of land, slap around the preacher and gun down a few innocent folks.

Hiss! Boo!

Washington plays it cool and calm as Sam Chisolm, who dresses in black from his hat to his boots, is faster on the draw than anyone in the West, and makes it a point to announce to anyone who will listen he’s not a bounty hunter — he’s a duly appointed officer of the court in multiple states, tasked with bringing in murderers and thieves, for a price of course.

When Haley Bennett’s obligatory Plucky Grieving Widow throws a sack of money at Chisolm and asks him to save the town of Rose Creek, Chisolm could just take the money and run — but he’s a man with a sense of justice, so he recruits a half-dozen rogues, including:

Chris Pratt’s wisecracking, hard-drinking Irish gunman Josh Faraday; Ethan Hawke’s ridiculously named sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux and his loyal sidekick, the almost as ridiculously named Billy Rocks (South Korean star Byung-hun Lee): Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s devil-may-care Vasquez; Martin Sensmeier’s Native American warrior Red Harvest, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s overgrown mountain man, Jack Horne.

Some of the Seven-sters get more screen time and character development than others. We don’t learn all that much about Vasquez or Billy Rocks or Red Harvest. It’s fun to see Washington and Hawke in a Fuqua-directed film some 15 years after “Training Day.” Hawke’s Robicheaux is a relatively complex character in a film that decidedly isn’t about character development.

Pratt’s performance as the cocky Faraday is underwhelming. A lot of bluster and smirking with few payoffs — and a climactic scene that felt predictable and ridiculous, even for an over-the-top Western.

But I did marvel as Fuqua’s ability to stage a number of action sequences, each one bigger, bolder, louder and more impressive than the one before. There’s a lot of good old-fashioned stunt work and practical effects on display here, most of it seriously impressive. (On occasion, it’s almost comically obvious we’re watching stunt performers and not Washington et al. performing amazing horseback riding feats.)

Also, stick around for the closing credits. Man did I love the closing credits.


MGM/Columbia Pictures present a film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. Rated PG-13 (for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material). Running time: 133 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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