Cowboys & Aliens
Starring Daniel Craig & Harrison Ford
Directed by Jon Favreau
118 minutes, PG-13
Release date July 29, 2011
Two action-actor icons, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, pony up to fight some nasty, not-of-this-Earth troublemakers in Cowboys & Aliens, a movie about exactly what its title suggests.
Among many other roles, Ford is best remembered for his swashbuckling adventures as intrepid explorer Indiana Jones. Craig rebooted the James Bond franchise in 2006, playing the suave, death-defying British superspy in Casino Royale and its 2008 sequel, Quantum of Solace.
In this mash-up of two of Hollywood’s most durable genres—Westerns and sci-fi—the two actors play high-noon hombres on different sides of the law, banded together by fate to fight a common ememy. They’re not Indy and 007, but echoes of both roles ring out as Ford and Craig race, chase, grunt, glare, shoot and scuffle their way across an Old West gauntlet of flying saucers, explosions and viscous intergalactic interlopers.
Ford is Woodrow Dolarhyde, a gruff cattle baron with a considerable amount of clout. Craig is Jake Lonergan, a buff-n-tuff stranger who rides into town with a bad case of amnesia—and a strange metallic gizmo affixed to his forearm.
Olivia Wilde sprinkles some va-va-voom into the trail dust as a beautiful young woman of ill repute who may know more about the aliens than she initially lets on. Paul Dano is Dolarhyde’s spoiled son, snatched up, up and away in a jarring nighttime air assault by the predators on terrified townsfolk.
Director Jon Favreau—whose resume also includes Iron Man and its sequel and the recent comedy Zookeeper—handles everything with the craftwork necessary to combine real actors with extensive computer-generated effects.
But there’s a been-there, seen-that feel to most of the movie magic, which is decent without being dazzling. Most of that ground, it seems, has been broken. Until someone figures out a new way to make our jaws drop with wonder, awe and horror, one goopy, people-gobbling extraterrestrial looks a lot like the last one.
The plot bogs down in its second half with an additional (and mostly unnecessary) layer of complexity, seemingly as a concession to Wilde’s character, who didn’t appear at all in the 2006 graphic novel that inspired the filmmakers. But hey, the movie suggests, as long as we’ve got a sexy actress, let’s figure out a tasteful way to get her disrobed, walking through fire, and contributing to the plotline.
The two marquee stars don’t really interact much, the “big” action pieces are fairly ho-hum by today’s hi-tech, eye-candy standards, and the movie just sort of moseys along when it seems like it should be having a lot more galloping fun.
Most viewers will expect a combination of saddles and flying saucers to take them somewhere exhilarating and exciting, someplace they’ve never quite been before. But this Wild West romp mostly just zips around in circles of cowboy-and-Indian clichés and all-too-familiar space-invader bunk.