(No longer in theaters)
Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Jul 29, 2011
The inevitable blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens is an agreeable time-killer, but I’ll bet a couple of clever kids could make a livelier movie with a Woody puppet and a Predator doll. The filmmakers—Jon Favreau and five credited screenwriters—missed a chance to fool around with two disparate homegrown American genres and come up with something freaky and surprising.
The movie is more Western than sci-fi, but the cowboys are like Indians. I mean, Native Americans. I mean, people going about their business when all of a sudden a horde of plundering imperialist invaders descends on them. Now the boss-man capitalist, the outlaw, and even the Native American chief have a common enemy. It starts with a start: Muscular, blue-eyed Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert with a wound in his side, a weird metallic bracelet locked on his wrist, and no memory—although, like Jason Bourne, he can effortlessly waste baddies. He’s haunted … but by what? Favreau is clever enough to withhold the pertinent plot details. With a narrative this hackneyed, not knowing is more fun than finding out.
No spoilers, folks. But I will say it’s delightfully disorienting when the first shoot-out is about to erupt and then—what the heck … ? The camera makes like Spielberg’s, tracking in on characters gazing in wonder at a glow on the horizon that turns out to be mini ships that whiz in and snatch up shrieking earthlings.
It’s too bad the aliens (amusingly dubbed “demons,” there being no sci-fi frame of reference in the Old West) are a cosmic letdown. Their ships are clearly computer-generated and move too fast to generate awe. And the aliens—apart from a Nazi-like surgeon—are mostly CGI, too, and indistinguishable. They do have one odd aspect: mandibles that open to reveal human-looking hands, which pop out and grab stuff. Behind those hands are exposed internal organs ripe for stabbing, an anatomical quirk that strikes me as, evolutionarily speaking, spectacularly nonadaptive.
Rumor has it that Harrison Ford insists on having his parts beefed up, so even in a supporting role (town boss) he has a lot of drawn-out scenes in which he gruffly bonds with sheriff Keith Carradine’s grandson and abuses his Native American top man (Adam Beach). Gorgeous, cat-eyed Olivia Wilde stands around as a woman who—what on earth is she standing around for? Don’t think, just ogle.
NB: Cowboys & Aliens is yet another PG-13 movie that will be seen by millions of kids that glamorizes tobacco use. Hero Daniel Craig sits puffing contemplatively after a big action scene, and, later, a lit cigarette saves the day when one of Craig’s henchmen nervously drops a pack of matches meant to light a mess of explosives. It could be argued that tobacco use was rampant in the old West so this is historically accurate. It could also be argued that aliens with disintegrating ray guns were not, therefore the film is baloney anyway. So why make cigarettes look cool—unless you have a deal with Big Tobacco?