REVIEW: Cowboys & Aliens

27 07 2011

From the very beginning of Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens,” a very uneasy unevenness settles on the screen.  The movie feels torn between whether to be an alien invasion movie that happens to be set in 1870s New Mexico or a Western movie where the villains happen to be aliens.  Rather than make an executive decision and splice the genres, Favreau settles for an unhappy medium, vacillating back and forth between which of the two he’d rather use for the particular scene.  The resultant jumble is just that, a movie that haphazardly joins various elements from both genres to create a bitter hodgepodge that barely satisfies on basic entertainment levels.

The film basically glides by plotlessly for nearly two hours, floating on the very thin premise that feels like an infantile idea to begin.  Combining cowboys and aliens sounds like a game played by a five-year-old when his mom throws the “Star Wars” toys in the Lincoln Logs bin.  It might be fun for a little while as the two clash, but we eventually come to the realization that the novelty can’t sustain, much like that child probably would as well.

The kids-at-heart writing this story, otherwise known as the guys who gave you such wide-ranging projects as “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” the television show “Lost,” “Children of Men,” “Iron Man,” and the unforgettable classic “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist,” have the attention span of that five-year-old child.  They fail to take the movie anywhere worthwhile past the original jolt of imagination that inspired them to combine the two worlds in the first place.  Once they get the whole thing assembled and need to get the plot rolling, they abandon it to play with Legos and leave the movie going on autopilot.

Yet even on this setting, it manages to go totally off the rails by the second half of the movie, jumping the shark with about 45 minutes left to go.  When they metaphorically abandon their movie, they leave us to watch a “Cowboys & Aliens” with no personality and tiny hints at a coherent narrative.  The characters that inhabit their barren wasteland are mere caricatures, one-dimensional replications of either Western stereotypes or characters the actors have played before.

Unfortunately, Harrison Ford’s scruffy, grumpy Clint Eastwood imitation had already well outworn its welcome in the last “Indiana Jones” and was just annoying in “Morning Glory;” contrary to popular belief, fecal matter doesn’t smell any better with age.  Daniel Craig plays James Bond eight decades before the Cold War, which doesn’t quite work out.  Olivia Wilde, though she clearly tries, can’t breathe any life into her femme fatale.  The rest of the ensemble isn’t worth nothing, despite sporting some recognizable names like Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and Clancy Brown.

Some of this mess could have been salvaged by director Jon Favreau, who has pulled off impressive balancing acts before in “Elf” and “Iron Man.”  However, the latter film could prove to be the pinnacle of his career as this and “Iron Man 2” have shown a decline in style and control.  There’s none of that delight found in action or humor found in the downbeats, two things that characterized him at peak condition.  When the script is working at the beginning, “Cowboys & Aliens” resembles vintage Steven Spielberg, an executive producer of the film.  But when the writers walk away, Favreau tanks along with his movie, and by the end, it doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned the same breath as the legendary director.  C / 

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5 responses

28 07 2011
Brian

So bummed by this review and the other ones like it. Really wanted this to be good.

28 07 2011
Marshall

Yeah, I didn’t have the highest of expectations, but it’s not like I go into a movie going “I really hope this is BAD!”

2 08 2011
pd1248

Saw it last night and was not too disappointed, maybe because I peeked at the reviews beforehand. Olivia Wilde, though gorgeous, did not belong in the film. She just seemed totally out of place- way too clean and well-coifed. And everyone else seemed to be re-visiting old characters they had played in the past- though I did enjoy Sam Rockwell.

4 08 2011
Marshall

Olivia Wilde – yeah, that character. Just awful. Her big moment totally marked where the movie went off a cliff.

25 08 2011
Tom Clift

Pretty much in agreement with you on this one. Felt like a generic blend of two genres, where none of the actors seemed to really be trying.

And yeah, the Olivia Wilde character was awful!

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