Monday, 19 December 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

It's 1873 in the Arizona Territory and a man wakes up in the desert not even remembering his name or how he ended up with a strange device manacled to his wrist.  He rides into the town of Absolution, which he discovers is under the control of a ruthless cattle baron and that in his forgotten life he's wanted by the law.  All that, however, is beside the point when a fleet of alien ships strafe the town and snatch up the townsfolk like children jigging for frogs.

With a title like Cowboys and Aliens and a director like Jon Favreau you'd expect a film like this to at least be fun, but it turns out to be one of those pictures that never seems to pull it off.  The idea of mixing a Western with an alien invasion plot sounds great, but it takes a deft hand, a real love for both genre and a willingness to ruthlessly play with both set of tropes.  This film has plenty of good elements and a first-rate cast, though Harrison Ford is miscast as the villain and comes off as a cranky old man, but none of it comes together.  Daniel Craig was a great choice as the Man With No Name, but is wasted as is Olivia Wilde whose plot twist is telegraphed a light year away. We're never given any reason to care about any of the characters nor to be really engaged in anything that's going on.

Worse, the pacing is painfully slow.  At 118 minutes it's half an hour too long and takes forever to get started.  More important, everything that takes up all that time turns out to be irrelevant to the plot and conveniently forgotten at the end.  The alien menace is never credible.   The creatures are neither an unseen menace nor are they allowed to be more than running, jumping things that are about as inherently scary and awe inspiring as a band of cheesed-off gorillas.

But what is most maddening is not the stacking of needless Western clich├ęs, but the repetition.  Heroes get captured, heroes get set free, someone has the drop on a character and a third party shoots the dropper before he can kill the dropee.  Rinse and repeat.

Based on a "graphic novel", the lesson to take away from Cowboys and Aliens is that basing a $160 million film on an obscure comic book is a really dumb idea.

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