Movie review: ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

In theaters

“Cowboys & Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau, 118 minutes, rated PG-13.

Cowboys and aliens are like water and oil. Or Daniel Craig and laughter. They just don’t mix.

In “Cowboys & Aliens,” director Jon Favreau thrusts you into his Western vision – a polished imitation of the genre’s best. Here, in the well-sculpted and obviously expensive landscape, we meet a man with no name (Daniel Craig), who wakes up in the middle of the desert void of any memory. There’s a chunky metal bracelet on his wrist, and a pretty serious gash near his right abdomen.

He’s everything a cowboy should be: Anonymous, gritty, tall(ish) and quiet.

When he gets to the nearest town, we find out that the man is in fact an outlaw named Jake Lonergan, who is wanted for robbing Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a local cattle baron whose power and money have a firm grip on the town. Needless to say, Dolarhyde has his sights set on revenge when he hears word that Jake is back in town.

While in town, the loner cowboy draws the eye of the enigmatic Ella (Olivia Wilde), who knows more about Jake’s past than she lets on.

But all of the squabbling, bickering and potential gunslinging is brought to a halt by an alien invasion, as spaceships light up the night sky, drawing the attention of the townspeople like moths to a flame. The town and its residents are doomed.

The scene hearkens back to the days of B-movies, as spaceships whiz overhead, blowing stuff up here and there while abducting fleeing humans, but it lacks the intensity of comparable scenes such as the human roundup in “Planet of the Apes.”

A small party of locals, led by Dolarhyde and Jake, depart on a journey to bring back their kidnapped loved ones — Dolarhyde’s son, Percy (Paul Dano), among them.

Craig, Dano, Ford and Sam Rockwell all fit very nicely into Western types. Craig is the rugged outlaw with a big heart, Ford the larger-than-life beef tycoon, Dano his brash and obnoxious son, and Rockwell a peaceful bartender not looking for trouble.

The four of them never branch out from those types, however, playing variations on characters we’ve seen again and again. It’s a nod to the genre without the wink.

Those nods sans winks continue throughout the film. What Favreau creates isn’t so much a blend of Western and science fiction, but a separation of the two genres, which just happen to inhabit the same cinematic space.

But what’s really absent here, and what sets the movie apart from Favreau’s previous efforts, is the director’s wit. The comedy that brought movies like “Iron Man” and “Made” to another level is scarce in “Cowboys & Aliens,” which is funny considering the title and premise are the silliest that Favreau has dealt with to date.

There is fun to be had here, with well-constructed action scenes and one of the most original and awesome weapons we’ll see all summer in Jake’s wrist-blaster. It’s a roller-coaster ride, and at the end of it all, “Cowboys & Aliens” is like a Western (or sometimes alien) themed amusement park. It’s expensive, slick and fast-paced enough to distract you for a couple of hours, but lacks the authenticity to provide anything more.

Grade: C

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One Response to Movie review: ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

  1. Dan O. says:

    Nice review. When you go to see a movie called ‘Cowboys and Aliens,’ you don’t expect high art, and that’s fine by us. But if the film itself has problems with taking itself too seriously, that spells trouble, mainly because when you have five writers that’s never a good sign. Still somewhat fun entertainment. Check out my review when you can!

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