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Cowboys and Aliens (A Movie Review)

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens


Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Noah Ringer, Chris Browning, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera, Walton Goggins, Julio Cesar Cedillo, David O’Hara, Brian Duffy, Brendan Wayne, Raoul Trujillo, Gavin Grazer, Troy Huss, Wyatt Russell and Kenny Call.

Screenplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof & Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby.

Directed by Jon Favreau.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  118 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

The biggest problem with a movie whose title is a one-gag premise is that it severely limits what you can do with the film.  Either you milk that single-joke mercilessly for the length of the film, or you softly chuckle over your cleverness and then play it straight.

Cowboys and Aliens takes the second option.  Okay, it has a catchy title, what now?

Therefore, the film takes its slightly silly idea and runs with it, making an awkward mash-up of old-school western and futuristic sci-fi.

Honestly, it’s an uncomfortable fit.

It is rather hard to take the whole idea seriously, and it all ends up seeming kind of silly.

Therefore, despite the presence of two action film icons – Indiana Jones meets James Bond! – the film lurches along unsurely, not positive what it is supposed to be.  Is it an old-fashioned oater or is it a newfangled space opera?

It’s not nearly good enough in either direction.

Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) plays Jake Lonergan, a tough hombre who awakes in the midst of a desert prairie with no memory and an odd metal bracelet which won’t come off.  He rides into the nearest town – a town run with an iron fist by a local rancher named Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).  When Jake runs afoul of Dolarhyde’s spoiled, out-of-control son (Paul Dano), a showdown is set in motion.

Unfortunately, before that showdown quite has time to play out, the small town is attacked by a group of murderous spaceships.

Hmm…  Holy plot twist!  We’re swimming in high-concept waters now.

Now, a big part of the problem here is that it is quite clear from the very start that if they really wanted to, these killer aliens and their ray guns could wipe out this rag-tag bunch – armed with knives, six shooters and dynamite – pretty much at will.

Therefore, the fact that the heroes – which eventually is made up of an odd mix of the law, the criminals, cowboys and Indians – survived to fight at all feels like a bit of a cheat.  A single good alien – who eventually makes its presence known to help fight the good fight – makes it quite clear that these are brutal intruders who had destroyed its home planet and killed everyone in their path.

So why let these ones live to fight back?

Also, oddly for a film whose entire premise is based upon a pun, Cowboys and Aliens is a strangely humorless film.  I understand the filmmakers didn’t want to be taken as a joke, but that doesn’t mean they had to be this somber.

The idea in itself calls for a little goofiness.  There is no real way to make it work otherwise.

And, sadly, Cowboys and Aliens really doesn’t work.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: July 29, 2011.

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