All inspiration for "The Magnificent Seven" began and ended at the casting phase. Director Antoine Fuqua's remake of John Sturges' rousing 1960 western (itself a retooling of Akira Kurosawa's magnum opus "Seven Samurai") aims for old school entertainment and falls far short, bringing together a game group of actors and giving them little to do but dully gallop toward an underwhelming climax. A late-film clunker line with a hilariously extended pause ("it was ............ magnificent") matches the unearned pomposity of the film around it.
The set-up is simple: After a peaceful town is terrorized by marauders (led by robber baron Peter Sarsgaard instead of bandit Eli Wallach this time around), the townspeople enlist a veteran gunslinger (Denzel Washington, taking over Yul Brynner's central role) to round up other cowboys to save the town. They include a sarcastic, card trick-happy gambler (Chris Pratt); a sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke) and his Asian-American assassin companion (Byung-hun Lee); an eccentric tracker (Vincent D'Onofrio); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier).
Fuqua has exactly two good ideas in "The Magnificent Seven": reuniting Washington and Hawke, the stars his best film ("Training Day"); and making the new seven a multiracial group. Whatever goodwill the director and screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk get with the latter gambit isn't capitalized on, however, as Lee and Sensmeier aren't employed as much more than novel ways to kill bad guys (knives and bow-and-arrow, respectively); Garcia-Rulfo isn't even afforded that much. D'Onofrio, meanwhile, seems to be competing with the villainous Sarsgaard for who can give the most annoying performance (between the former's too-affected, high-pitched voice and the latter's twitchy mustache-twirling, call it a draw).
Washington and Hawke make the best impressions, the former by being his usual commanding self, the latter by seeming the most at home in a classic western. But neither character's emotional arcs are afforded room to breathe: Hawke's implied PTSD from the Civil War is all but dropped by the end, and Washington's vengeful reason to want to protect the town against Sarsgaard all but disappears before his final confrontation while undermining the essentially altruistic reasons that powered both Kurosawa and Sturges' films. And though it's fun to see Hawke and Washington together again, the script rarely gives them or any of the other heroes time to bond in a way that doesn't feel like killing time before the big battle.
The film's tone is oddly dour, with the opening encounter between Sarsgaard and the townspeople played with a self-seriousness that never fully dissipates. Consequently, Pratt's jokey, defiantly modern performance feels at odds with the film around him, and the gunfights, knife fights and explosions aren't much fun. Fuqua directs with characteristic lethargy, shooting the shootouts in undifferentiated close-ups that renders the action spatially and rhythmically incoherent while leaning on a cast chemistry that he hasn't actually established. Elmer Bernstein's jaunty theme from the 1960 film finally shows up at the end credits. It's difficult to imagine a remake less deserving of it.