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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Film Review | Cowboys & Aliens

The Only Good Alien...

by Thomas Delapa

Cowboys & Aliens opens tomorrow. I wonder what that’s about?”
--David Letterman

If the classic western has gone south, and science fiction is plumb tired, what’s a desperate Hollywood to do? Well, if you’re director Jon Favreau, the answer is easy, pardner: Take both genres, mix them up, add a stampede of special effects, and point and shoot.

With such producing honchos as Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard riding herd, you might figure Cowboys & Aliens would gallop off into the sunset as a sure-fire winner. But once you look beyond the bizarre blend of gunslingers, sagebrush, barroom brawls and evil E.T.s, Favreau’s mixed-up mélange is a close encounter of the worst kind.

Basing their script on a 2006 graphic novel, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci steal from western classics (like The Searchers) for their template, hogtied to a malodorous plot about alien abduction. Our amnesiac, Bourne-again hero is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who wakes up on the prairie to find a weird, space-age shackle on his wrist. When three grubby outlaws try to rob him, Jake shows us what a tough hombre he is.

Just to make sure we know we’ve landed in a western (as opposed to the real West), Favreau loads in clichéd dialogue (“Palms to heaven, friend”) to go along with the iconic, widescreen landscapes. From this well-trod fictional universe, we are transported into an empty, politically correct no man’s land where evil, bloodthirsty aliens take over the role that used to be played by Indians.

In the corrupt town of Absolution, the good guys (and a tribe of nice Indians) are forced to team up with the bad guys to fight the monstrously ugly invaders. Though Favreau pays lip service to the classic western, this travesty only comes to life during the alien attack on the town. From their marauding spaceships, the creatures brutally lasso the humans with hooks, dragging them back to their desert lair for unearthly experiments.

Away from the dramatic attacks, Favreau’s dialogue is as flat as Death Valley. As the laconic Jake, Craig rides short in the saddle, glaring his vacant blue eyes and looking as comfortable on a horse as James Bond in a leisure suit. As the town’s leathery cattle baron with a trigger-happy son (Paul Dano), Harrison Ford scowls and spits out his lines, a Han Solo gone to seed.

With the double-barrel star casting, you might reckon it means that Ford is passing his rusty action-hero badge on to Craig. Whatever the aim, the gesture is nothing but a bum steer.


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