The basic plot of Seven Samurai has been re-worked so many times in so many wildly different contexts that it's frivolous to complain about one specific remake. Of course, nobody had to make The Magnificent Seven in 2016, and it's no shock that it's not remotely as good as The Magnificent Seven of 1960, but since it's here regardless of those facts, one might as well acknowledge that it does stuff which isn't devoid of interest. For one thing, it takes a fair number of elements from Seven Samurai that the original Magnificent Seven didn't bother with when it first transposed the plot of Kurosawa Akira's samurai epic into the American West. And hey, that's a worthwhile to approach it, if an approach needs to be made.

And so we find once again the brutally familiar basic stakes: an agrarian community being threatened with violence hires a gifted warrior to protect itself, and he arranges for six other outsiders and misfits to join in; together, they inspire the farmers to stand up for themselves, even it be at the cost of the warriors' own lives. There are few wrinkles to knock the dust off for 2016 audiences: one is the film's ethnic polyglot, with the seven consisting of three whites - one Irish, one Cajun, one unspecified - an Asian, a Comanche, and a Mexican, all under the general leadership of African-American Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Another is the attempt to make this some kind of populist declaration of All of Us against The Landowners, with the villain given a rather unsubtle speech about how capital, violence, the apparatus of religion, and political power are all snarled up together, though this theme is expressed so meekly that I think it would have been better for the film to have avoided it altogether, than to raise possibilities it had no interest in exploring. At least the racial dynamic, however flimsy, is more or less a throughline given the occasional references to the white characters' histories in the Civil War and/or as Indian hunters. For the most part, though, the film's energy is focused entirely on being the burliest, most robust action movie it can, and whatever sociological insights creep in do so largely incidentally.

It is not, by and large, a very inspired film, though sometimes it gets there in spurts. It's reasonably well-cast, with Washington getting to play yet another in the list of highly competent badasses that he's been steadily adding to his rΓ©sumΓ© ever since 2001's Training Day, the first time he worked with Magnificent Seven director Antoine Fuqua. And if there's not really anything Washington does here that he hasn't done elsewhere, the fact remains that he's an A+ movie star of the first order, whose powerful charisma and sense of screen authority do all the work necessary to hang a whole movie around him, and whatever "acting" comes into play are merely a bonus. The cast is fleshed out by Chris Pratt (as sarcastic alcoholic gunman Josh Faraday), Ethan Hawke (as theatrical ex-Confederate and Chisolm's great friend Goodnight Robicheaux), the great Korean star Lee Byung-hun (as knife-wielding Billy Rocks), and newcomers Manual Garcia-Rulfo (as bandit Vazquez) and Martin Sensmeier (as exiled Comanche warrior Red Harvest - the name of a Dashiell Hammett novel unofficially adapted by Kurosawa as the samurai film Yojimbo, which I hope isn't a coincidence). They all inhabit their roles fine, if largely without distinction; Pratt, in particular, feels like lazy casting for the part of an anachronistically quippy action hero/comedian, but that's not really his fault. The only standouts in the movie are, in general, the actors who have decided to be in something other than a straightforward Western with the stern masculine sobriety typical of Fuqua: one is Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays old mountain man & legendary soldier Jack Horne as a kind of addled, violence-prone Santa Claus, confused and happy and generally in a much lighter, zippier picture than the one he's actually meant be in. The other is Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue, the villainous landowner who drives the plot; he plays the character as a strange, hambone caricature, all sweaty, bug-eyed intensity and a distinctly kinky edge of desperate excitement, as if he finds the idea of committing violence to be positively arousing. It's peculiar enough that I'm not even sure if he's "good" in any meaningful sense, but in a film of highly proficient mediocrity, being bugfuck crazy is enough to add some necessary flavor.

It's a passable action movie, at least: Fuqua's tendency to favor fast cutting that punctuate gunshots gives the film a distinctly modern edge that doesn't really suit the Western setting. Even so, the first major setpiece, in which the seven first come to town and quickly make work of Bogue's 20-odd mercenaries, is a completely satisfying, impressively protracted piece of action choreography, with each of the heroes being given their own distinct fighting style, even if they're all filmed in the same "one size fits all" aesthetic. It's a nifty bit of building character through movement that is exactly what I'd have liked to see from a Magnificent Seven remake throughout, and even if it's just here for a bit, that's better than nothing.

"Better than nothing" is, alas, generally the nicest thing that can be said about the movie. It's simply not doing anything: Fuqua has never been so impersonal in his use of style. I suppose it's neat that the film manages the rare feat of making the American West look ugly, by allowing cinematographer Mauro Fiore to shoot the Arizona and New Mexico with an overcooked palette of color correction that makes the landscape look like it has been indifferently crayoned-in with harsh blues and greens that only vaguely resemble the natural world. That's easily the most distinctive thing about The Magnificent Seven, but even negative aesthetics can only go so far to cover general blandness. It is a perfectly functional, watchable movie, and there's never really any reason to actively avoid a Denzel Washington action picture. There's also no particular reason to seek this one out, sadly, and while it never embarrasses itself as a remake of a remake - it is very, very easy to imagine a worse Magnificent Seven than this - it's so flatfooted as a movie qua movies that it hardly matters.