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Cowboys & Aliens

by on July 28, 2011
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Perhaps I was expecting too much out of “Cowboys & Aliens” … or at least I was expecting something much different.

For a summer tentpole movie with a title like that, starring two actors (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford) who have played iconic action heroes and directed by admitted fanboy Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), I was expecting something loopier — wacky hijinks coupled with slick special effects.

What we get instead is a fast-paced Western oater in which the bad guys happen to be crusty boogums from outer space. Imagine “War of the Worlds” with the invasion occurring during the days of six-shooters and saddles.

The result is a movie that takes itself way more seriously than any film with a title like “Cowboys & Aliens” ought to.

It’s still a fun ride, and Ford gets to play a more multidimensional character than we’ve seen in awhile. Craig is less fascinating, squinting his way through the movie and stumbling through an unconvincing American accent.

The movie opens without preamble. A man wakes up in the desert, lacking boots, a weapon or even a memory of who he is. He’s the epitome of the Spaghetti Western Man with No Name, since he doesn’t even know it himself.

He does have a strange metal doohickey attached to his left wrist, and when some cowpokes try to roust him, he discovers a freakish ability at hand-to-hand combat.

The stranger rides into town, where he is soon identified as Jake Lonergan, a notorious bandit with a $1,000 bounty on his head. He runs into trouble with the son of the local ranch boss and finds himself arrested by the sheriff. There’s also a strange, beautiful woman who knows how to use a pistol and seems very interested in Lonergan.

Things come to a head when Col. Dolarhyde (Ford), the ranch boss, arrives to spring his boy. He’s a hardened Civil War veteran, takes guff from no man and always gets what he wants.

It seems things will go very badly when suddenly the town is attacked by spaceships, which blow people to bits or lasso them with metal contraptions and carry them away. Lonergan’s bracelet suddenly comes to life and shoots down one of the ships, so he’s recruited for the posse to track down the kidnapped townsfolk.

Things go on from there, and there isn’t much that was very surprising, although it is executed well. The secret of Lonergan’s amnesia and laser bracelet are uncovered, the creatures reveal themselves in all their googly-eyed, crustaceous glory and, of course, some American Indians will ride in as some sort of reverse cavalry.

Dolarhyde is the most interesting character by far, and the small army of screenwriters (six, including story credits) give him plenty of layers. At first he’s just a hateful old boss pushing people around with his wealth and gang of armed cowboys. But eventually we discover him to be more haunted than hateful, especially in his relationships with a longtime Indian employee (Adam Beach) and a young boy who tags along with the posse.

I enjoyed myself at “Cowboys & Aliens,” but it’s not the sort of experience that will linger in the memory. Instead of genre-bending kitsch, we got a gritty Western with creepy critters.

3.5 Yaps

 

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