118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Daniel Craig carries himself like vintage Steve McQueen.
Harrison Ford, on the other hand, is starting to carry himself like Lee J. Cobb.
If you’re old enough to recognize those two names, welcome to my world.
In “Cowboys and Aliens” Craig is a resident of the Old West who wakes up in the middle of the desert with a bad case of amnesia and some sort of big honking electronic bracelet on his wrist that cannot be removed.
Ford plays a crusty old cattle baron accustomed to ruling the area like a Medieval lord.
Before you can say “alien abductions in 1870s Arizona” they’re battling high-tech invaders from outer space.
Jon Favreau’s latest is in many ways a conventional cowboy movie — though not always a particularly good one. We’ve all seen the Western in which the Indians raid settlements taking prisoners and the surviving menfolk organize a posse and take off in pursuit.
Same deal here. Just substitute Martians for Indians.
Craig’s initially nameless hero stumbles into a small frontier town and immediately makes an enemy of Percy (Paul Dano), the trigger-happy jerk son of ruthless cattle capitalist Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford).
But before their animosities turn to bloodshed, bizarre flying ships strafe the burg, blowing up buildings and lassoing citizens who are jerked off their feet and into the sky. Among the abducted is Percy.
Craig’s Man with No Name and Dolarhyde reluctantly join forces to take on the invaders. Conventional firearms are of limited value in battling the baddies, but that “bracelet,” it turns out, is actually a high-falutin’ six-shooter that fires laser bolts.
The screenplay (the credits list six writers…never a good sign) populates the rescue party with the usual “types.” There’s a cynical city slicker sawbones (Sam Rockwell) whose beloved wife has been snatched; a kid (Noah Ringer) whose grandpa, the local lawman (Keith Carradine), has been grabbed; a preacher (Clancy Brown); an Indian raised as a white man (Adam Beach) and a dumb-as-rocks desperado (Walton Goggins).
And then there’s the mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) who straps a gun rig over her plain gingham dress and seems to know an awful lot about these creatures from beyond.
It all boils down to a battle royal between the uglies from outer space and the Family of Man — among the human army assembled to take on the threat are townspeople, an Apache tribe and a gang of outlaws who’ve been terrorizing the territory.
United in the face of a common threat…ain’t man a noble creation?
Mostly Favreau plays this material straight…which may not be such a great idea. Especially since what you see is all you get. Once you get past the gimmick of aliens in the Old West, these characters and
situations are musty with age and overuse. If you’re going to dish cliches, find a way to tweak them, please.
As it stands, “Cowboys and Aliens” starts out strong and then gradually grows unremarkable, finally redeeming itself at the end with a big blowout (it’s kind of like the low-tech Ewoks bringing down the Empire’s heavy machinery with rolling logs and trip wires).
Fun? Kinda. But it wears out its welcome.
| Robert W. Butler