Cowboys & Aliens is the equivalent of putting chocolate and peanut butter together and getting a rice cake. Westerns can be great, sci-fi can be wonderful. But the attempt to bring them together has resulted in a flavorless movie.
The script is a mess, all of the storylines are uninteresting, the action is flat, there’s not much room for lead actors Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford to do much beyond growl and grimace, and the usually inspired cinematography of Matthew Libatique is a grand disappointment.
A stranger (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert. He wakes up with no memory of who he is and odd bracelet shackled around his wrist.
A group of bandits pass by, see his bracelet, assume he’s an escaped convict and try to bring him in to collect on the bounty.
But the stranger still remembers how to kick ass and he easily kills his three would-be captors, takes their weapons and clothes, and rides to the nearest town, Absolution. This scene is most likely the best in the movie.
Then it turned out that the stranger is the outlaw Jake Lonergan. He’s captured in Absolution and about to be sent to a federal courthouse when the town is attacked by aliens and most of its people are abducted.
Lonergan is able to take down one of the ships with his bracelet-cannon and the following morning he goes after the aliens so he can find some answers. A group of the townspeople come along to rescue their kin.
Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) wants his dipshit son (Paul Dano) back, Doc (Sam Rockwell) is going after his wife (Ana de la Reguera), a little kid (Noah Ringer) wants to rescue his grandpa/the town’s sheriff (Keith Carradine), and a mysterious woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) also joins the posse.
These are five main storylines. The biggest blunder of the film is that we hardly learn anything about the characters and they rarely interact with each other.
There’s no banter, there’s no complex relationships, and while they may share scenes, they hardly ever speak to each other. But these are not all script problems.
No one seems to understand the tropes of either genre beyond “Cowboys wear Stetsons and ride horses, Aliens have spaceships and use futuristic weapons.”
There’s no real attempt to have the genres interact in a meaningful way beyond “Look at how technology changes the relationship between the conqueror and the conquered.”
Ford’s presence, along with that of Steven Spielberg (he’s an executive producer) makes you wonder what Mr. Spielberg would have done with this material, though maybe the better question is what Mr. Favreau would have done differently without him.
“Cowboys & Aliens” is, with “Super 8,” yet another summer release Mr. Spielberg has blessed with his imprimatur, perhaps not to the advantage of either. (His name is also on the latest “Transformers,” but let us not speak of that.)
It isn’t just that he is a veritable genre and brings a legacy and specific filmmaking ideas with him; it’s also that J. J. Abrams, who directed “Super 8,” and Mr. Favreau, each a pop adept, have skewed heavier and less loose with the Great Man on board, as if awed by his genius instead of his early gift for fun. [via The New York Times, Collider, San Francisco Chronicle]