Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens (PG-13)


cowboysKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

Length: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Age Appropriate for: 15+. It’s rated PG-13 but is actually surprisingly bloody, with a fair amount of bashed-in baddies, some scalped heads and lots of alien-on-human violence. It’s not the kind of absurdly creepy gore that will stay with you, but it’s a bit of a shock for what seems like a campy movie. There’s also some cursing and implied nudity from the main female character.

Daniel Craig seems bored. Harrison Ford seems old. And ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is one of the most disappointing blockbusters of the summer.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Cowboys & Aliens” is an inaccurately titled film. Yes, it has cowboys. Yes, it has aliens. But, most importantly, it also has a whole bunch of terrible unbelievable awful.

For a movie starring Harrison Ford, the guy whose legendary roles include Deckard from “Blade Runner,” Han Solo from “Star Wars” and that adventurous archaeology professor Indiana Jones, and Daniel Craig, whose many ways of kicking butt made James Bond cool again, “Cowboys & Aliens” is sadly boring, uncreative and just plain tired. As in, Ford and Craig actually look tired. Ford is 69, so of course he’s totally over this, and Craig seems like he’s biding his time until the next Bond movie goes into production next year. It’s nice, of course, that Craig is keeping up with his upper-body workouts, and it’s good to know that Ford can still snarl and scowl like Han Solo did when Princess Leia annoyed the crap out of him. But those talents are heavily overshadowed by this film’s unbelievably silly plot, some painstakingly horrendous acting from Olivia Wilde and the lamest-looking aliens I’ve seen in a while. (Yup, that even includes those weird half-machine ones from “Battle: Los Angeles.”)

“Cowboys & Aliens” is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name, but director Jon Favreau takes little of that comic book’s plot, except the title’s elements. The graphic novel, created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley, had aliens riding motorcycle-inspired bikes and toting cool accessories like X-ray goggles and energy whips. The film just makes the extraterrestrials CGI-heavy green guys who sort of look like they have a werewolf’s physique, mixed with Predator’s face and Alien’s mouth, with a creepy extra set of arms that nestle next to their lungs (actually the movie’s only scary element). The result is an awkward mish-mash of other pop culture aliens that fails “Cowboys & Aliens” any defining visuals of its own.

Of course, a film called “Cowboys & Aliens” has to be taken with some degree of camp, but the film tries too hard to be a serious sci-fi tale with messages about human unity and cooperation. Things start off in the 1873 Arizona desert, when badass outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of a barren wasteland with no memory and a gaudy, antiqued-gold-looking cuff bracelet on his left wrist. He has no idea who he is or where he is, but he’s adept enough to kill three men with Native American scalps hanging from their horses (it’s a very Bond moment) and naturally nice enough that he lets their dog tag along when he rides to a nearby mining town, Absolution.

A sleepy, abandoned place, the town is basically run by Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), who served in the Civil War and now runs a financially successful cattle ranch; with all the money his business provides Absolution, his obnoxiously spoiled son Percy (Paul Dano) is allowed to do whatever he wants, even if that includes shooting wildly in the public square and ridiculing saloon owner Doc (Sam Rockwell). Only Jake has the gall to stand up to Percy, and his knee in the teen’s gut gets him noticed and recognized. A criminal wanted for arson, assault, mayhem, hijacking and murder, Jake is accused of recently killing a prostitute and running off with a large amount of Dolarhyde’s gold. At the hands of Dolarhyde and the sheriff, it seems like Jake’s certainly screwed — until the aliens come, of course.

Ah, the aliens. They come in ships that look like a dragonfly mated with a spinal column and a bunch of vertebrae, blow up a bunch of buildings and snatch a bunch of people, and Jake realizes that the bracelet on his wrist beeps when they’re around and can shoot what seems like laser beams. Why are the aliens attacking? When the mysterious Ella (Wilde) tells Jake, Dolarhyde and the rest of Absolution’s citizens what the aliens are after, you’ll certainly laugh. The reason Favreau and writers Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby give for the aliens’ invasion is inexcusably dumb, but oh well. I guess it was silly of me to expect intelligent plot development from a movie about cowboys … and aliens. (Please imagine those last three words, including the pause, to be delivered with the most sarcasm imaginable.)

If only this movie had any sense of humor whatsoever, perhaps “Cowboys & Aliens” could have worked. Instead, it’s unclear exactly what Favreau wants to do: The first scene with Craig is surprisingly violent, leaving him splattered with blood, and the showdowns between the humans and extraterrestrials are also defined by the number of torn-off limbs and mauled necks. But there are also these strange, “Gladiator”-like memory sequences focused on Jake and his former life; some “Dances with Wolves”-inspired messages about friendships between white settlers and Native American warriors; and this totally snooze-worthy romance between Jake and Ella, which doesn’t ever get sexual but still seems thrown in for good measure. The film’s elements are too disparate and disjointed to ever cohesively come together into one effective narrative, but Favreau refuses to let the movie be another straightforward, shoot-‘em-up action ride. His insistence on these various plot threads makes the film weaker and weaker as it progresses.

Perhaps if Craig’s character was better fleshed out; Ford had more to do than stand around looking grizzled; and Wilde didn’t deliver all her lines with such a wide-eyed, monotonous tone (it worked for her in “Tron: Legacy,” but come on, she was a computer program in that!), “Cowboys & Aliens” wouldn’t be such disheartening slop. Instead, however, “Cowboys & Aliens” just bites the wild, wild Western dust.