Sunday, August 7, 2011

COWBOYS & ALIENS


Jon Favreau, 2011
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

Make no mistake -- this is a movie called Cowboys & Aliens. If you expect it to be some sort of cinematic tour de force, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. But if you're only expecting to see cowboys getting eaten by/shooting at aliens for almost two hours, you'll probably be reasonably entertained.

Jake Lonergin (Daniel Craig, who is the entire reason I went to see this film) wakes up with his memory wiped blank, a strange wound on his side that doesn't seem to be a bullet hole, and a weird metal bracelet clapped to his wrist that won't come off. He finds his way to a small town that has fallen on hard times. The most prominent local business man, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), is something of a thug and his spoiled, drunk, violent son goes unchecked until Jake shows up and teaches him some manners. One thing leads to another and the sheriff comes to arrest Dolarhyde's son, who has "accidentally" shot a deputy. He's also planning to arrest Jake; it seems he's an infamous outlaw wanted for murder.

Just as the two men are being taken away, the town is attacked by alien ships. Buildings are destroyed and townspeople are kidnapped. The ships are only driven away when Jake's bracelet -- which turns out to be a powerful weapon. A small group bands together to track the aliens north: Dolarhyde (his son has been taken) and his men, a lonely young boy, the town doctor, the preacher, and Ella, a mysterious woman with an interest in Jake. Jake returns to his home, which he has finally remembered, and recalls that he and the woman he loved were taken by the aliens when he brought home a bag full of gold. Filled with remorse, he heads to meet the band of villagers and joins in their fight. They have to contend with personal difficulties, alien attacks, Jake's former gang of outlaws, and an Apache tribe. Eventually Jake regains his memory and they find the alien base and prepare for a final showdown in the hope of rescuing their loved ones.

There are plenty of good and bad things to say about Cowboys & Aliens, but it isn't really the kind of film that requires deep critical analysis. Though the action and visual effects are pleasing, the plot and script are unsurprisingly thin. A strong initial premise gets flushed gradually down the toilet by a cartoonish pillaging of Western tropes. The tribe of Apaches was taking a bit far.

Daniel Craig delivers exactly what you would expect. Though I said this when I first saw Casino Royale, I still think he's the heir to Steve McQueen. The man seems to enjoy getting the living shit beaten out of him at every turn. His American accent is stretched pretty thin, but he's compelling enough that I could ignore it. Harrison Ford phones in his performance as the asshole businessman Dolarhyde, but, when it comes down to it, you're still watching Harrison Ford.

Overall, I recommend seeing it if you want a fun summer blockbuster. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film has gone through a long development process, but I think it was in the right hands with director Jon Favreau. Not only has he helmed the popular Iron Man films, but he directed one of my favorite movies of all time: Elf. Yes, that Will Ferrel Christmas movie. Cowboys & Aliens is available on a basic DVD from Universal, as well as a fancy pants Blu-ray option.

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