Film Review: “Cowboys & Aliens”

by Jason LeRoy on July 29, 2011


Daniel Craig in COWBOYS & ALIENS

starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine

written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

directed by: Jon Favreau

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference

Cowboys & Aliens is a solid if unspectacular western that just happens to feature aliens. Everything about the film – its look, its pacing, its performances – says “western.” The villains just happen to be aliens rather than Native Americans or gunslingers from the wrong side of the tracks. This isn’t Wild Wild West (although a catchy Will Smith dance track tie-in couldn’t have hurt it). It is as straight-faced and serious as its two leading men.

Daniel Craig stars as Jake, an outlaw who awakes in the middle of the desert with no idea who he is or how he got there. He is barefoot, and there is a large, strange-looking shackle on his left wrist. He wonders into the nearby town of Absolution, which he quickly learns is ruled with fear by Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his menacing son, Percy (Paul Dano). After meeting a mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde), Jake quickly runs afoul of the law. But such quibbles are rendered nil when the town is suddenly attacked by alien vessels which throw down harnesses to ensnare the people of Absolution one by one and drag them up into the ships. Evidently the alien laser beam had yet to be invented in 1873.

Jake and the remaining citizens put aside their differences to band together and find their loved ones. The aliens, of course, are to blame for Jake’s current state; he gradually recalls his own abduction in lurid flashes of memory. He will use these memories to lead his band across the deserts of Arizona until they can locate the aliens (which they call “demons”) and battle them for the release of their loved ones.

Cowboys & Aliens has a clever concept – the idea of aliens landing at an earlier point in American history – and it is refreshingly staid and character-focused for an intended summer blockbuster. But its staidness borders on slowness, and it doesn’t really achieve much in the way of fun or excitement. It certainly pales in comparison to director Favreau’s Iron Man. The aliens do look pretty amusing, though. In addition to their regular arms, they can also open up a chest cavity and reveal a second pair of little McConaughey arms. Fun!

Craig and Ford growl and grumble at each other like a less homoerotic version of Alec Baldwin and Will Arnett on 30 Rock. Olivia Wilde appears to be auditioning for the Madeleine Stowe role in a remake of Bad Girls, with the added character trait that she refuses to wear anything in the evening unless it transparently reveals her nipples. The lack of undergarments extends to Craig as well, who boasts the hindquarters of a prize-winning Doberman in his pantyline-free cowboy pants and chaps.

So, yes. That’s what I was thinking about during Cowboys & Aliens. Lack of undergarments and little McConaughey arms. If you see it and think of anything else fun, let me know. Because unless you’re a western buff, I don’t know how else it’s going to hold your interest. Sadly, Cowboys & Aliens isn’t nearly as much fun as its name suggests.

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