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Excepting its Western/ Sci-Fi mash-up concept and how very excellently Daniel Craig wears a pair of chaps, there’s nothing new under the sun with Cowboys and Aliens. What should have been a wild, totally fantastic ride turns out to be leaden, badly-paced and dull.

A man with no name wakes in the middle of nowhere.  He has no memory of who he is or where he last was.  Nor does he retain any clue about the large metal manacle clasped onto his left arm.  When a group of marauding scalawags surrounds the disoriented stranger with unkind intentions, his innate skill at self-defense becomes another puzzle.  Cleanly turning the tables on the bandits and finding some very well-fitting clothes in the bargain, he heads into the nearest town to begin his hunt for an identity.  He doesn’t have to search long as his past comes stampeding up to greet him, and our mystery man is revealed to be Jake Lonergan, a desperado with a price on his head.  Soon, very large numbers of lawmen are amassed and our cowboy is brought to heel, ready to be carted off to answer for his many crimes.  Before Jake heads off to the hoosegow, some bright lights appear in the sky and giant silver airships descend on the small town, causing rampant destruction and snatching its citizens into thin air.  It is then that the big bracelet around Jake’s wrist gets a glow of its own and gives the attackers back some of their firepower.  A motley crew of townspeople saddle up to fight the invaders and bring back their stolen loved ones, including the most powerful man in the county, Colonel Dolarhyde, and Doc, the milquetoast saloon owner.  In their party is a lovely young woman who seems to know far more about both Jake and the threat from outer space than she’s letting on.

Doesn’t this sound like an interesting premise?  Based on a graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, the combination of Old West and science fiction genres was so unusual and bizarre that it really could be a fascinating movie.  It has all the right ingredients, beginning with its director, Jon Favreau, the man behind the Iron Man films, the charming Elf, the underrated Zathura and writer of the excellent Swingers.  It stars Daniel Craig as the man (initially) with no name (- Eastwood homage aside, Craig often reminds one more of Magnificent Seven-era Steve McQueen in their shared blondeness, cowboy drag and grit).  Harrison Ford is all bluster and hubris as the town tyrant, Dolarhyde, and Sam Rockwell’s Doc is impotent rage as the barkeep that couldn’t shoot straight.  Adam Beach plays a supporting part as Dolarhyde’s devoted ranch hand, who sees much more in the crusty cattleman than the rest of the world.  There’s a promising subplot where the townsfolk have to join together with a tribe of similarly aggrieved Native Americans, and the prickly bridging of cultures made necessary by the need for numbers against a common foe is very well done.  There’s also the fascination of watching Daniel Craig play a role that would’ve been handed to his co-star, Harrison Ford twenty years ago.  So why doesn’t it all come together?  Pacing would be one reason.  Every time momentum builds in the film; either during one of Jake’s fights or an alien attack, it dies just as quickly.  In the desire to create memorable characters, it’s easy to forget this should’ve been an action film, so there’s a lot of time spent with minor characters and simply wandering through the picturesque New Mexico scenery.  The majority of subplots don’t add up to much, either, with Jake’s backstory not really having any meaning by film’s end; an ending that felt like there should’ve been some kind of cliffhanger, but merely leaves the audience shrugging its collective shoulders.  There’s also a big plot hole involving one character who is shown to have extraterrestrial powers, but if that’s meant to infer the missing cliffhanger, it’s very weakly done.  Lastly, the invading ETs aren’t anything we haven’t seen before.  Much of Cowboys and Aliens owes a debt to District 9, from the outer space technology that Jake learns to utilise after becoming joined with it, to the very alien design itself; a buglike biped with an ugly face and mean temper.  Both the creatures and their UFO HQ look surprisingly low-budget.  In fact, there’s simply not a lot that’s visually stunning about the creatures, their mothership or anything else about the film, except for the lovely western locales and Daniel Craig’s chaps.  Whilst not a particular fan of Mr. Craig’s looks, that cowboy outfit was one of the few things that kept my attention during this unexpectedly tepid film.

I’d welcomed the audacious concept of Cowboys and Aliens and had high hopes for it, seeing how well Jon Favreau had previously brought the summer bombast.  I was sorry to be so disappointed by the very flatness of the film and lack of any real sparks or ingenuity outside of the efforts of its worthy cast.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 29th, 2011

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Universal Pictures)

 

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