It feels as if I’ve been watching promo trailers for ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ for at least the last two years. I don’t think I’ve been as relentlessly assaulted by the Hollywood promo machine by any movie ever, as I’ve been assaulted by ‘Cowboys and Aliens’. Even as the day of its release finally arrived, I’ve gotta admit there wasn’t much desire to see it, probably because of the promo overload if nothing else. But in that same vein, I was left with no choice to see it because of the promo overload. Was the assault worth it? Not really. John Favreau’s ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ is a competent enough film, but not nearly as much fun as one would expect from a movie calling itself ‘Cowboys and Aliens’.
The cowboy (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert. He’s beaten, he’s bloodied, he has no idea who he is, where he is, or why he’s sporting a pimped out LCD bracelet in the year 1882. Then some men ride up and they are looking to do this cowboy some harm. This dude might not remember who he is, but he remembers how to kick that ass.
Next, the cowboy makes his way to a little town. It’s a typical western movie town with lots of dirt, a tumbleweed or two, a saloon, a sheriff (Keith Carradine), a preacher (Clancy Brown), a doctor (Sam Rockwell) and an overlord (Harrison Ford). Didn’t see a brothel though. There’s also a rather odd looking woman floating around this town named Ella (Olivia Wilde) who looks really interested in this cowboy and his pimped out bracelet.
Turns out this cowboy is noted stage coach thief Jake Lonergan and he’s wanted. Particularly by the Overlord Colonel Dollarhyde since Jake and his band of not-so-merry thieves stole some valuables from him. Jake, despite his top shelf ability to kick ass, is eventually captured, the sheriff is carting him off to face justice, while Dollarhyde wants to inflict his own set of justice on Lonergan… and then they come.
They being the alien part of ‘Cowboys and Aliens’. These things have spaceships, they have explosives and they also have LCD lassos on these ships and are snatching up bodies like it’s going out of style, and the rudimentary weapons that our cowboys are using are useless against these things. All is lost. At least until Jake’s pimped out bracelet jumps into action and evens things out just a bit.
Now things are a little different. For starters the cowboys have an alien on the run and have formed a posse, and since we have a Native American on our team (Adam Beach) and since Native Americans in movies are natural born trackers, we are going to find that alien, find out where he and his kind are holed up and get our people back. There will be challenges along the way, such as more cutthroats, an alien that really doesn’t like being tracked, and the pissed off Apache Nation just to name a few obstacles, but Jake has the bracelet and even though it sounds unlikely, he knows how to use that thing even better than the aliens do. And there is something about that woman… she just looks strange.
There is nothing inherently wrong with ‘Cowboys and Aliens’. In fact, the majority of this movie is overwhelmingly correct. Daniel Craig is pitch perfect for the role of the steely-eyed cowboy since a smile on Mr. Craig’s face looks completely unnatural. He’s athletic, he’s a damn good actor and he has an undeniable presence about him that lends itself well to being a cutthroat, hardass, quick draw cowboy. He’s a kind of a little guy, but one still wouldn’t want to mess with Jake Lonergan. Harrison Ford is taking grizzled, crusty, old and angry to all new levels as he makes the seamless transition from leading man to arguably the best old character actor around that money can buy. Plus Clancy Brown is in this movie. One can never discount the Clancy Brown factor in any movie he shows up in, and Olivia Wilde is odd looking. It all kind of fits. Favraeu directs his movie more like a western, less like a sci-fi epic, with its shady characters who could all use a bath, sweeping vistas and galloping horses, and even the Aliens ultimate goal is ‘western-like’. Think of it as a high concept stage coach heist. The action is crisp and explosive and well executed, the aliens are mean, violent and well designed… if not very bright… and there you go. A competent action movie.
But is competent good enough in a movie called ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ directed by the ‘Iron Man’ guy, and starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford? Of course it’s not. When asked ‘How was Cowboys and Aliens’, responding with ‘it was all right’ or ‘it was okay’ wasn’t what we were expecting. After sitting through it, I don’t know what I was expecting to be honest with you, but I didn’t expect this movie to be flat. I didn’t expect a movie with this much talent in front of and behind the camera, a movie with six screenwriters credited to writing this movie, a movie with this much money and this much promo placed behind it… to be mediocre. It’s forgettable.
Let’s take for example the movie ‘The Warriors Way’ which is basically ‘Cowboys vs. Ninja’. Apples versus Apples, ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ is probably a better movie, but ‘The Warriors Way’ was anything but forgettable. ‘The Warriors Way’ seemed to be having fun with its ridiculous concept where ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ was going through the motions. But of course that’s just one lowly man’s lowly opinion.
Like we said earlier, it’s a competent movie with some great actors being great in their roles and lots of explosive action. Too bad nobody seemed to be having a lot of fun with it.