COWBOYS & ALIENS Review

The big fuss around "Cowboys and Aliens" is in fact that wink and nod of a title that suggests many things that this genre mash-up could possibly be. Upon hearing the title you might initially think more Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino fare than that of Jon Favreau but the director behind "Iron man" has shown he is quite comfortable with bringing us a fun-filled, big budget summer blockbuster or two and continues his winning streak even if with each film he seems to be losing a bit of his edge. With "Cowboys and Aliens" Favreau has found an interesting concept and one that appeals to the geek within us all but it was really depending on the execution of what this combination could bring that would determine whether or not this would be everything the title promised it might be. For the most part this is a movie that knows exactly what it is and delivers on every level that we should expect it to with high marks. Still, something just seems to be lacking. With so much talent behind and in front of the camera you have to wonder why this simply wasn't more innovative or at the very least creative. What could have easily been one of the most exciting experiences at the theater this summer turns out to be nothing more than something entertaining to pass the time with. Could be worse I guess, but could have been so much better.

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up with an
unknown accessory on his wrist.
The one facet of "Cowboys and Aliens" no one could disagree with is the fact it is a good time. There is nothing that will essentially make you not enjoy the film. It has everything: action, aliens, gunslingers, girls, bits of humor, beautiful cinematography and a host of actors that possess enough charisma to overflow one hundred space ships. Still, as an avid film lover I couldn't help but hold out hope for something more inventive than a story line that basically copies numerous old western plots and places the aliens in place of the escaped, on-the-run fugitive. The film opens with Daniel Craig's Jake Lonergan waking up in the desert with no memory of his past and a mysterious mechanical bracelet attached to his wrist. Lonergan wanders into the nearest town in hopes of finding some answers and stumbles on a town ruled over by the local cattle herder and former Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde as played by Harrison Ford. It is just as exciting to see Bond and Indy team up as you might imagine it would be, but we almost wish their characters were more of allies so we could possibly get a glimpse of how the two would really work together. Instead Ford is forced to play the old crony that ignorantly sticks up for his spoiled son (Paul Dano) and Craig plays it all solemn and stone-faced as an outlaw who apparently has stolen from Dolarhyde in the past. Olivia Wilde continues to allow her nerd side to show as she plays Ella, a woman clearly not letting on all she knows as well as Sam Rockwell and even David O'Hara showing up to play what are nothing more than western stock characters. Still, leave it to Rockwell to make even the most plain of characters engaging.

Aliens invade the Old West.
The first half hour or so of "Cowboys and Aliens" is nearly perfect. Favreau sets the tone, and its not the one you might expect. He and cinematographer Matthew Libatique capture the vast blue skies filled with epic white clouds against character silhouettes. The dry, barren landscapes are contrasted perfectly with the Arizona canyons and the flourishing greens of the forests this mixed gang of townsfolk and outlaws travel through. And this movie is taking the premise as seriously as it can be. From the moment Craig's Lonergan disposes of four men in a split second in the opening moments we feel that sense of danger and of rawness that the old west no doubt possessed every moment of the day. When Lonergan wanders into Absolution and shuts down the cocky son of richest man in town to the near stand off between Rockwell and Dano it almost feels as if Favreau just wanted to make a good ole' western but knew that would never fly in the middle of summer even if he did have Bond and Indiana Jones in his movie. In fact, the film only starts to feel generic when the extra terrestrials start to show up. Their first attack under the night sky of Arizona in 1873 is somewhat thrilling and to see the townspeople react as if they were demons makes sense and gives us a glimpse at what the psyche of this story could have really evolved into. That yes, this may be like every other alien invasion movie you've seen but you have never seen aliens invade in a different time period. You have never been given any reason to wonder how people of the old west may have reacted to floating ships in the sky. That is the intrigue, that is the promise that came with the title that goes unfulfilled.

Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and Doc (Sam Rockwell)
contemplate a plan that might free their child and wife from
the unearthly visitors.
Maybe the most disappointing aspect of this experiment in genre smashing though is the look and character of the aliens. Instead of feeling labored over and thought provoking, these outer space visitors feel like second rate knock offs of what we saw in Ridley Scotts first "Alien" film over thirty years ago. There is no striving to be original in that aspect, they feel generic and when a character is sharing the billing they simply can't be pushed to the side in hopes that no one will notice how lame they actually are. It is sad to say the cowboys are far more interesting than the aliens and neither give us a real reason to root for one over the other, but I guess that's what happens when you have over eight people working on a script. A bunch of overstuffed ideas crammed down to individual moments and shaped into a story line that follows every rule any John Wayne movie ever made. "Cowboys and Aliens" never lives up to that promise I held for it upon first seeing the preview but in the end we get to see our hero ride off into the sunset as he should and in what is maybe the best thing about this movie is the fact we don't have to watch that sunset in 3-D.