Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Mark Fergus (“Iron Man”), Hawk Otsby (“Iron Man”), Damon Lindelof (debut)
Throughout movie theaters across the country, the trailer for “Cowboys and Aliens” was met with uproarious laughter when the title card was revealed. Although seemingly not any more preposterous of a plot than a teenager infused with spider DNA, audiences chuckled incredulously. With audiences laughing at the mere concept of the film, there was added pressure on director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) to keep a serious tone and to strike a convincing balance between the western and sci-fi genre. What we actually get is a film with no true identity.
The film opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of a desert not knowing where or who he is and with a strange device attached to his wrist. When he heads into the nearest town, Lonergan discovers that he is a wanted criminal and is set to be turned over to the feds. While Jake is intercepted by the begrudging Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), aliens attack the town of Absolution, taking many of its residents with it. Though confused and shocked by the events, Jake, Colonel, the mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), and others band together to go on a rescue mission to fight the alien race and recover their loved ones who have been abducted.
For a film starring two strong actors and a supporting cast to match, the acting in “Cowboys and Aliens” is incredibly flat. Both Craig and Ford seem to be going through the motions, giving plastic performances with only a few explosive moments. Not even the always-dependable Sam Rockwell (“Moon”) can muster a memorable performance. However, the actors are not totally at fault here. With a cheesy, cliché-ridden script, the writers (five accredited ones to be exact) take a solid cast and give them nothing to do with their characters. No effort is made to give us a reason to root for these people other than the obvious “us vs. them” reasoning.
One of the biggest problems surrounding “Cowboys and Aliens” is that it attempts to combine two genres, and in the process fails on being a good version of either. The Western elements are not nearly compelling enough. While the familiar costumes and sets are there, the swagger and strong characters of true Westerns are sadly missing. The film incorporates its sci-fi elements with generic and predictable action beats, there for the sole purpose of showing the aliens and what they can do. It has the same tired and predictable sci-fi moments that you’ve seen a hundred times before. You know when an alien is going to meet its end and you know when some unsuspecting human is going to get snatched. It’s been done before, and in much more interesting ways. When coupled with some spotty CGI work, the end product is a film that turns out being a mediocre sci-fi movie set in the Old West.
But beyond all of its shortcomings at mashing genres and at a run time of about two hours, the biggest problem is that “Cowboys and Aliens” is unnecessarily long-winded and isn’t very much fun. It relies so heavily on mesmerizing you with its visuals that no care is given to the story. And while the trailer provided audiences with laughs, the actual film is more likely to produce yawns.