Skip to content

Sci-fi western misses the mark

Cowboys & Aliens. Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.

Cowboys & Aliens.

Directed by Jon Favreau.

Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.

Rating: 5 (out of 10)

IT reads like an unprecedented machismo genre mashup: cowboys and aliens, two Boys' Life magazine mainstays guaranteed to splatter testosterone all over the screen.

But hold your horses: this genius idea is about to go stale right quick. It starts with the dusty residents of Absolution, concerned but not particularly traumatized that rootin' tootin' flying machines are buzzing through town stealing their citizenry.

(Remember that this is before flying. And machines. You'd think they'd be more alarmed.)

A stranger walks into town wearing a nifty metal bracelet on his wrist that occasionally lights up and blows things to pieces. He can't remember his name, or much of anything else, so just call him Jake (Daniel Craig). Cattle rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) may be a crusty old thing, but even he knows it's handy to have a guy like that around.

As this is a western, the men immediately form a posse and head out in hot pursuit of the "demons." Joining them is Ella (Olivia Wilde) a determined filly set on doing her part. Turns out Ella knows quite a bit about Jake's past and that shiny ET accessory on his forearm. Now if she could just get him to remember, and then forget, his former flame, a victim of alien probing.

Before Team Cowboy faces off against Team Alien, they've got to tussle with a band of outlaws and some Indians. But there's nothing like flying hunks of metal to make people break out the peace pipe. They team up to rescue their loved ones and destroy the core of the ship, before the aliens strip the land of all its gold and take over the planet.

The reason for this alien gold-rush is never explained. Nor is that paddle-wheeler sitting in the middle of the desert, though it sure is a purdy set piece.

There's a sense of deja vu once we come face to face with a shrieking alien, who turns out to be a garden-variety space guy who even leaves green, slimy tracks. (Couldn't these guys ooze yellow or pink, for a change?)

Rescue from a flying alien craft is a lot different than a rescue from a runaway stagecoach, but Craig executes this - and all scenes - straight-faced, and with steely cowpoke concentration. The fact that all actors fully commit to the premise is what saves the film from being pure pulp, but there is still an inordinate amount of posing on the actors' part: on horses, with guns slung on shoulder (looking slick, Sam Rockwell) and everywhere else in this dusty set.

I love that the many writers responsible for the script (based on a comic book) and director Jon Favreau included cowboys lassoing aliens, in perhaps the most iconic scene in the movie. But come on: these myopic alien baddies are really bad shots, considering they're facing men with spyglasses and shotguns. At least the green guys are considerate enough to take a break from battle so that Ford's character can have a poignant moment with his illegitimate son (Canadian Adam Beach). Ford, having done both the outer space thing and the cowboy thing, resorts to growling most of his lines, taking his cowboy cue from Jeff Bridges in True Grit.

Cowboys & Aliens should have been unadulterated good fun. Instead it's little more than a titular premise with a nonsensical plot, a cautionary tale for future genre hybrids.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks