Cowboys And Aliens: A Review

Cowboys and Aliens – Dir: Jon Favreau; *ing: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell

You know you’re witnessing the end of an era when Harrison Ford no longer has top billing in a sci-fi flick, understandable though it is seeing as Han Solo has been in senior citizen territory for nearly a decade. It’s also indicative of the next era of sci-fi that’s evolving now, which in turn provides a microcosm picture of the changing face of cinema as a whole, i.e. one where seemingly chalk-and-cheese elements and genres meld into each into one another so frequently that it gets harder and harder (and also somewhat redundant) to fit genre films into one neat little box. For example, in recent times we’ve seen horror making an unlikely pairing with the musical (Sweeney Todd) as well as the ballet film (Black Swan). And now here we have the coupling of two things that American cinemagoers seem to have special affinity for – no, not Dr. Pepper and Hostess Twinkies – men on horses and fugly, homicidal extraterrestrials. The combination of the Western and sci-fi has been tinkered with before of course, but fare like Wild Wild West is best sent off for a walk down amnesia lane.

Cowboys and Aliens gets right into the thick of establishing its dalliance with both genres fairly quickly, as we see Old West outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig) come to with virtually no memory of who he is and where he came from, or, indeed, why he has a thick, futuristic metallic bracelet on his wrist. Its utility, however, becomes apparent soon enough when it zaps the bejeesus out of an attacking alien ship, whose snarling, slobbering otherworldly occupants of the bug-eyed variety have come to abduct the unsuspecting prairie dwellers. Lonergan joins forces with curmudgeonly Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) and comely damsel Ella (Wilde) to search and rescue, as well as to seek and destroy.

While C&A as a (high) concept is all kinds of intriguing, its execution doesn’t quite deliver the kind of excitement and, well, fun that that concept, perhaps inadvertently, promises. This is a dramatic film, make no mistake, with a laconic, brooding (if utterly, devastatingly delicious) hero, and plenty of heavy subtext, with very little to smile about at any point. Also, in this sort of setting with this kind of story, what really counts isn’t necessarily the chemistry between the leading man and woman, but leading man and man (think Joneses Sr. and Jr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Agents J and K in Men in Black). Unfortunately, the script never gives enough room for Craig and Ford’s characters to forge that bromance-y bond that the narrative cries out for.

These aren’t fatal flaws of course. They do, however, keep you from becoming completely engaged with the film. Still, as far as visual spectacles go, you could do a lot worse.

There’s more where this came from:

Cult: Serenity (2005) – The movie version of the short-lived TV series is one of the few true blue space Westerns.

Current: Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon – More pesky aliens creating havoc on earth with humans generously offering themselves as laser fodder.

Coming Attraction: Men in Black III (2012) – The long-awaited second sequel to the sci-fi comedy classic is finally in production.

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