COWBOYS & ALIENS
*** (out of 5)
July 29, 2011
Daniel Craig as JAKE LONERGAN
Harrison Ford as COLONEL DOLARHYDE
Olivia Wilde as ELLA SWENSON
Sam Rockwell as DOC
Directed by: Jon Favreau
BY KEVIN CARR
As we were prepping for this summer and its onslaught of sequels, remakes and superhero adaptations, the blogosphere was abuzz for Jon Favreau’s follow-up to the “Iron Man” films – “Cowboys & Aliens.” However, like fickle fanboys often do, they soured as the film approached, and a wash of early screenings – including a much-hyped screening at the San Diego Comic-Con – led to some negative buzz.
After seeing the movie, I have to say to those who grumbled at it like Harrison Ford muttering through his dialogue: “What the hell did you expect.”
The movie is called “Cowboys & Aliens,” after all. It doesn’t get any sillier than that. It’s a genre mash-up that is having fun with both westerns and science fiction. It’s got James Bond and Indiana Jones fighting an alien invasion in 1873 Arizona. That has potential for awesomeness and fun. And to Favreau’s credit, I think he did a fine job.
The story follows Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who wakes up in the desert with a mysterious device on his wrist. He stumbles into town where the son of wealthy cattle rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is making trouble. After both get arrested, they’re going to be shipped off to the state for handling. But when Dolarhyde comes to bring home his son, a sudden attack of alien ships come to town and abduct most of the citizens, including Dolarhyde’s son. This leaves Dolarhyde to team with Lonergan to find the alien stronghold and bring the people home.
The film has some pacing issues, but to be honest that’s to be expected. After all, both “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2” had some as well. There’s a slow-down in the middle. Again, this tends to happen with Favreau’s recent films. But in the grand scheme of things, “Cowboys & Aliens” pays homage to both genres quite well.
But keep in mind its homage to the westerns is not for modern westerns. “Cowboys & Aliens” doesn’t put itself in a post-“Unforgiven” world. It’s not about the contemplation of sin and the search for redemption. It’s not a Clint Eastwood slow-burn drama. Rather, it’s a movie that reminds me of earlier westerns, before they became respectable and award-winning, the kind that were cranked out by studios by the dozens every year before “Star Wars” pulled a Buzz Lightyear on the genre’s ass.
In many respects, “Cowboys & Aliens” is a formula western more than it is science fiction. It follows a mysterious stranger who comes into town to save the people from the bad guys. In this film, however, the bad guys don’t wear black hats and drink whiskey. They wear nothing but their gooey skin and arrived in a spaceship. Otherwise, this film follows a standard kidnapping plot that we’ve seen many times before in films of the past.
I like what Favreau did with this. He doesn’t approach either genre with pretension or campiness. Rather, he tells the story with a straight face, and it plays well. He throws in plenty of action, which like any good western, punctuates a rather grim-faced film.
The film’s not perfect by far. All the cliches of cowboy films and alien films are there. But I wasn’t expecting them not to be. It’s a fun western for me, and throwing in some alien goo makes it all the more fun.
“Cowboys & Aliens” isn’t just the most obviously named film of 2011, but it’s a great way to cap off the big releases of the summer season. You could do a lot worse… and you already have this summer.