It begins with a cowboy waking up in the desert with no memory of who he is and ends with cowboys and Indians fighting aliens for gold. Yeah, you heard me, gold.
Although I enjoyed it, with a title like Cowboys and Aliens I expected the film to be a little zanier, goofier, and far more of a fun summer popcorn flick. What director Jon Favreau delivers is entertaining, at times, but it also feels unimaginative and uninspired.
After waking up in the desert without any memories, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) makes his way to the nearest town. Almost immediately he gets into a tussle with the son (Paul Dano) of the town’s wealthiest man (Harrison Ford), is thrown in jail for a train robbery, and shoots down a giant alien spacecraft with a strange metal bracelet attached to his arm. You know, just your everyday activities in the Old West.
When several of the townsfolk are taken Jake is roped into helping rescue them as well as a woman (Abigail Spencer) from his past he thinks may have been taken as well.
Setting on on the quest are Lonergan, a preacher (Clancy Brown), a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde), the saloon owner (Sam Rockwell), Colonel Dolayhyde (Ford) and his right-hand man (Adam Beach), and the grandson (Noah Ringer) of the sheriff (Keith Carradine) who is one of the missing. On their journey their also find equal parts hostility and help from Lonergan’s old gang and a tribe of Native Americans.
Favreau plays everything straight. The only funny moments which you’ll find over the course of the film are to relieve tension. Cowboys and Aliens is nothing more or less than a typical monster movie surrounded by the trappings of a western. The aliens are angry, evil nameless creatures who must be killed (any attempt at reasoning at them isn’t even suggested). To the simple folk these creature are demons who must be put down.
The movie kept my interest, the acting is fine (although none of the cast is used to their full potential), the design of the aliens is interesting (even if the tiny arms coming out of their chests kept reminding me of Kuato from Total Recall), and the action sequences work well-enough (even if they are completely forgettable), but I never felt exhilarated, surprised, or the urge to cheer events as they unfolded on-screen.
And for those who are going only to see Olivia Wilde’s “nude” scene you can save your money. The only skin you’ll get a glimpse at here is her bare shoulders as the rest of her is carefully covered up by darkness and CGI fire. Nothing to see here, move along.
Before I end this review let me talk about gold which, apparently, is so precious a metal that aliens with vastly superior technology are willing to cross galaxies to secretly mine. I understand the idea of having the aliens be after something the the cowboys can also see value in, but for a movie seriously lacking in the silly department the choice of gold comes off as pretty damn ridiculous.
The large number of abductions is also a problem. If the creatures are only after the wealth hidden deep in the ground why do they keep kidnapping people? They don’t need workers and they have a stable of plenty of subjects to do their generic alien experiments on (seems aliens were doing this to humans even in the Old West). So why do they keep collecting specimens like Happy Meal toys. Are they trying to get a complete set?
Cowboys and Aliens isn’t a bad film, but it’s not exactly a good one either. It’s flawed and not as well thought-out or executed as I’d like. If you’ve seen everything else at the local theater and are only looking for a passing diversion on a hot summer day you could do worse. The sad truth of the matter, however, is you could also do better.