Why Was I Subjected to This?

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
Summary: A spaceship arrives in Arizona in 1873 to take over the Earth, starting with the Wild West region. A posse of cowboys are all that stand in their way.
Spoilers: none

With a quietly bragadocious title like Cowboys and Aliens, only one of two things is a darn near certainty; we are in for a good parody, or we are in for a movie directed by someone who thought Will Smith’s abominable Wild Wild West (1999) was a good movie. Not being lucky enough to get the former, we are left with the latter.

Waking up without a clue as to how he got where he is, “Jake Lonergan” (Daniel Craig) finds himself with
a strange metal device attached to his left wrist. After a trip to a local town with little more than gut feelings to go about retracing his steps, Jake finds himself a wanted man who makes enemies with a town sheriff (Keith Carradine) and a powerful rancher with his own posse, “Woodrow Dolarhyde” (Harrison Ford). With an on-the-surface, western movie full of clichés right down to sketchy frontier towns, reckless gunfights, and rowdy town drunks (Paul Dano), this film would have been just another hammy western wash-up--and then aliens get involved.

I can almost picture the mental womb in which this film was conceived; While sitting around one day, someone had a vision to combine the gun-toting egotism of the old west with the perceived gadgetry of all things futuristic. The result was a movie with a star-packed cast displaying their talent in an ill-conceived project about some unlikely-evolved aliens.

Why the aliens are here is, at first, a very brief mystery. I spoil nothing in making known that it’s the usual human-abducting business aliens are known for in movies, but the writers couldn’t help but throw in some towering, vicious aliens with lobster claws and chest hands to mix things up a bit. The story tells us the ultimate motivation behind the presence of these aliens on earth, which I won’t reveal, and that premise is mocked in the movie itself. For now, all we are left with is the mystery behind how these nearly 10-foot-tall aliens evolved without opposable thumbs.

After a town invasion, Lonergan, Dolarhyde, and other townsfolk who seek to take back their abducted family members go after the aliens. No one really seems amazed at all that they just observed alien spacecrafts and lasers in 18-freakin’-73 and no one questions whether or not their puny weapons will be effective against their attackers.

Cowboys and Aliens unfolds with only a tad more coherent narrative than a stoner’s epiphany recounted before an audience of post-Woodstock enthusiasts. To develop its story, we get dragged through melodramatic mud, with flat, time-consuming dialog and a hefty serving of western clichés into the lives of a select group of townspeople in a sloppy and slow-moving first half that is focused on getting us acquainted with characters we don’t care much for: a preacher (Clancy Brown), a bartender (Sam Rockwell) and his wife (Ana de la Reguera), Dolarhyde’s right-hand man, “Nat Colorado” (Adam Beach), and “Ella Swanson” (Olivia Wilde) who brings such strong-handed drama to every scene she is in that its hard to believe she hasn’t walked in from another movie set.

Next to the oft-repeated still-shots of Wilde’s beautiful face, Ford’s gruffness, and Craig’s tall-walking toughness, this is a perfect example of a movie where the stars blatantly outshine the material they’ve been given.

Less discerning crowds will find its quickly likable stars and action-packed, sci-fi story a winner with great special affects and amazingly well-created action sequences characterizing its better second half, but the rest of us will be wondering why we’ve been subjected to a bizarre story in the first place.


Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference)
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: “Jake Lonergan” (Daniel Craig), “Woodrow Dolarhyde” (Harrison Ford), “Ella Swanson” (Olivia Wilde), “Nat Colorado” (Adam Beach), “Maria” (Ana de la Reguera), “Doc” (Sam Rockwell), “Meacham” (Clancy Brown), “Percy Dolarhyde” (Paul Dano), “Sheriff” (Keith Carradine)
Genre: Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller