Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

Directed by Jon Favreau.
2011. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Daniel Craig
Harrison Ford
Olivia Wilde
Sam Rockwell
Paul Dano
Clancy Brown
Keith Carradine
Noah Ringer
Adam Beach
Abigail Spencer
Ana de la Reguera

Occasionally, I go into a movie not really knowing what to expect. Such is the case when I sit down to watch Cowboys and Aliens. Yup, it’s yet another movie based on a graphic novel I’m not cool enough to even have heard of. Judging by the title, I sorta think I’m in for a wild, campy ride that’s possibly so bad it’s awesome. Let’s be honest, Cowboys and Aliens doesn’t exactly scream art house cinema. On top of that, Jon Favreau is the director. He’s injected so much well-timed humor into the Iron Man franchise it should be easy doing the same for something with such a kooky title. Then again, the star is Daniel Craig. As an actor, I’ve seen him in a number of different guises: action hero, crusading reporter, lover of old women, etc. A barrel of laughs, he is not. Sure enough, once the movie starts it’s pretty obvious we’re playing things straight.

Our hero wakes up quite literally in the middle of nowhere and remembers nothing of his life to that point except how to fight. We gather that from the way he handles the trio of bumpkins who happen upon him. More importantly, he notices a futuristic metallic bracelet locked onto his left wrist. He wanders to the nearest town, learns his name is Jake (Craig, duh) and he’s an outlaw. We get a few scenes to establish Jake as a real badass then the aliens show up. A bunch of townspeople get snatched up, Jake’s bracelet seems to activate on its own and he takes down one of the extraterrestrial planes by firing a blast from it. One of those abducted is Percy Dolarhyde (Dano). He’s the son of wealthy, ruthless cattleman Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Don’t call him colonel, though. He hates that. As always, there’s a girl. This one is named Ella (Wilde). She seems to know more than Jake about his own past. The two of them plus the grumpy old colonel set off trying to find the missing folk.

Aside from the fact that all the good guys ride horses and fire six shooters or shotguns, Jake’s bracelet aside, C and A isn’t much different from other alien invasion flicks. The creatures exist merely to destroy everything in their path. Humans exist merely to stop them. Playing it straight, without even a hint of satire or self-awareness dictates that this is how it must be. It’s uniqueness is completely tied to its setting. The storytelling and characters are all fairly stock. It helps that Harrison Ford is exceptional in his role and gives us much of the humor. A few of the bit characters are also great in this regard. Daniel Craig is a fine actor, but doesn’t give us anything special. He’s pretty much doing Bond in a western. Olivia Wilde is pretty. Sorry, that’s all she gives us. It’s a Megan Fox-like performance: a gorgeous face doing nothing.

What’s left then, are the action scenes. They come frequently enough and entertain. The mixture of old-school western and high-tech aliens gives us an interesting juxtaposition. They’re never a preposterous pair. Though these scenes are fun, they’re hardly tense. They should be, particularly when humans are getting snatched off their horses and appear like tails on a kite as they trail the alien ships. However, it rarely rises above the level of “did you see that?” That works out okay. I guess. However, it would be so much better if we could not only see it, but actually feel it. We never do. Part of the problem is that like most recent movie aliens, the invaders are faceless and seemingly thoughtless snarling creatures that do little to justify the higher intelligence assigned to them. The humans only fare slightly better.

The whole thing does what it sets out to do, but fails to set itself apart. It feels like a massive opportunity has been missed. The alien invasion genre is ripe for skewering. Clichés are abundant, even within this film. There is ample material to examine. C and A never attempts anything deeper and/or funnier than a straightforward affair. It takes an inventive premise and does nothing with it, satisfied with being run-of-the-mill. At being run-of-the-mill, it’s not terrible. It moves along quickly and supplies us with a solid amount of visual thrills. It’s light on the chills, but fun enough to compensate. For a movie night gathering, it should do the trick. It’s just a shame that something with the potential to be so memorable is so not.

MY SCORE: 5/10

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