James Bond and Indiana Jones team up to do battle with a heap of creepy space demons. Seems to me like this is a can’t miss idea.
Then again, never underestimate the power of a mammoth Hollywood budget to squash equally hefty aspirations.
Granted, Cowboys & Aliens is a pretty good summer popcorn treat. The trouble is, it’s darn near all concept. This western/sci-fi mash-up doesn’t exactly fire blanks, but if epic entertainment was what it was shooting for, it ain’t entirely right on target either.
The tale has big movie star #1 (Daniel Craig) waking up in a New Mexico desert circa the late 1800s, beat up with no memory of how he got there, and some wild clunky metal bracelet attached to his wrist. (Turns out to be this cool laser-shooting thing, but that comes later.) After dispatching a trio of no-good fellas, he makes his way to the town of Absolution. There, he defends the mousy saloon owner (Sam Rockwell) from the local bully (Paul Dano). Bad idea, ‘cause the bully’s father happens to be big movie star #2 (Harrison Ford), a snarling, well-to-do cattle rustler who is, in his own words, “keeping the town alive,” and thus can write his own ticket when it comes to bad behaviour.
But before Craig and Ford lock horns, aliens in spaceships whip down from the dark night sky, begin abducting townsfolk, and, well, time to put differences aside, saddle up and kick some extraterrestrial hide.
Cowboys and Aliens sounds like the wild daydream of a 13-year-old kid, and, admittedly, it is a ton of fun. For a while. Unfortunately, like every other movie involving space creatures, when secrets are spilled and we actually see the lizard-like beasties and understand their motives, well, a lot of the frivolous joy suddenly gets sucked from the deal.
Now, as a western, the movie is quite good. Craig brings that Bond-like intensity to the lead. Ford, while the poor guy is getting typecast as a grouch, at least makes a good grouch. He has his quality cranky pants on. And Olivia Wilde is very decent in a supporting effort.
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) seems to surprisingly relish the pure adrenaline six guns ‘n’ dust a lot more than wrestling with aliens. Or perhaps it’s simply unavoidable that things get too ridiculous to hold it all together. The name of the movie is Cowboys and Aliens, after all.
–– Jason Armstrong is The Morning Star’s film reviewer. His column, Aisle Seat, appears every Friday and Sunday.