It’s a simple set-up. 1873. Old West. A man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there or of who he is. He has a strange mechanism shackled around his wrist. The only thing he knows for sure is that he’s got some mad fightin’ skillz which he learns when faced with danger. He makes his way into a small town where he meets some interesting people, including a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde), with a mystery about her.
Is it how she has perfect hair and teeth in the days before conditioner and Crest White Strips, or is there more?
Soon the man learns his name is Jake Lonergan and that he is a wanted man. Among the many after him is the powerful and feared cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford: complete with a slow-turn to the camera introduction). Just as Dolarhyde rolls into town and Jake is locked up, all hell breaks loose when the alien ships zoom in and begin snatching up the townsfolk. Everyone left must then join together and fight to save their loved ones and their own lives from the otherworldly threat.
Cowboys & Aliens succeeds most at creating memorable characters that the audience can care about, root for, and often, laugh at. (There are a whole lot of one-liners and silly gags that for the most part, actually work.) The casting is near-perfect and everyone shows up with their A-game. It’s especially a lot of fun to watch Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig team up in a passing-of-the-torch (or passing-of-the-hat) kind of way.
I will also raise my glass to the beautiful score by Harry Gregson-Williams, which compliments every scene perfectly and to the fact that Favreau didn’t jump on the 3D bandwagon.
NOTE: I must mention that there is a dog. Like many animal-lovers, whenever I see a dog in a movie, I get nervous. I then get really, really pissed if the dog is killed (Snakes on a Plane anyone?) It’s a cheap way of manipulating the audience and it ruins the movie in my opinion. Now I don’t like to give away spoilers in my reviews; however, if there is a dog in the movie I will tell you if you will be pissed at the end since you will likely spend the entire movie worried about the dog’s fate. Therefore, I am happy to report that animal-lovers will not be pissed at Cowboys & Aliens (though a lot of horses eat it, but who cares about horses unless they are a main character anyway?)
A western-sci-fi mash-up is definitely intriguing, however fans of both genres are likely to be disappointed as much of the movie is pretty clichéd and predictable. If you’ve seen Independence Day or any other alien invasion film, you pretty much know how it’s gonna go. The aliens look like a hybrid of every movie alien of the past thirty years and aren’t very intimidating. Scares intended to make the audience jump out of their seats fail due to the audience seeing it coming a million miles away and a million times before. For instance: An alien chases a young boy. Boy hides in a cubbyhole. He peeks out and sees the alien run away. Suddenly, ANOTHER ALIEN IS RIGHT UP IN HIS FACE!!
There’s never much edge-of-your-seat suspense. Add to that the clunky pacing and plot, which starts out promising but gets more and more absurd with every ludicrous reveal (most of all, the aliens’ motive behind the invasion).It fares a bit better on the western side. The beginning of the film is a fun and nice throwback until those pesky aliens show up. Harrison Ford’s gruff Dolarhyde is more effectively menacing in his first scene when torturing one of his workers than any of the outer space bad guys.
But wouldntchaknowit, he ends up not being such a bad guy after all.
Oh, those silly aliens. And by silly, I mean REALLY FREAKING DUMB. For being so technologically advanced with their fancy spaceships, wrist shooty-thingys, and experimentation tools, they don’t seem to have much going on upstairs (if that’s where their brains are located). They just sort of run and bounce forward like video-game villains that you have to shoot before they bump into you and you lose a life. They also conveniently all disappear whenever a break in the action calling for a witty line of dialogue is needed. They experiment on humans to discover their weaknesses without realizing that humans’ main weakness is not having spaceships and wrist shooty-thingys. The biggest dunce of them all is one of the scientists who just happens to do the stupidest thing imaginable at the perfect time. Above all of this, the aliens’ method for getting what they want from us is the equivalent of stealing cars and siphoning out the gasoline instead of just finding the source of crude oil and drilling. They really didn’t think this whole thing through very well.
In every good vs. bad movie there’s always the big showdown at the end. The one in Cowboys & Aliens is a letdown on nearly every level. It’s lackluster, predictable, and groan-inducing at times. Again, there’s barely any suspense and a child can correctly predict what is going to happen before it does.
Cowboys & Aliens misses the mark and never lives up to the epicness of its title and individual components. It’s a lot of fun at times but could have (and should have) been a lot better.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever you correctly predict what is going to happen.
Take a Drink: every time you are reminded of another movie.
Take a Drink: every time Daniel Craig’s blue eyes sparkle.
Take a Drink: every time there is a moment where Dolarhyde reveals that under the tough exterior, he has a heart of gold. (Anyone that’s seen the movie: See what I did there?)
Take a Drink: every time an alien does something dumb.
Take a Drink: every time you are concerned about the dog.
Take a Drink: at every witty one-liner.