Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown and Paul Dano
Duration: 116 minutes
What came first, the plot or the film name? There could be a fair argument that Iron Man director Jon Favreau’s latest, Cowboys & Aliens, falls firmly in the former. Sounding like a close relative to Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, this sci-fi meets western shows all the inventiveness of The Asylum’s worst output, albeit with an enormous budget.
Cowboys & Aliens starts with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the desert with no idea how he got there and a funky metal bracelet on his arm. Heading for the nearest town, he meets Western staples; the local preacher (Clancy Brown), the aging sheriff (Keith Carradine) and goofy saloon owner (Sam Rockwell) before a confrontation with local arrogant trouble maker Percy (Paul Dano) sees him put in jail. When Percy’s ruthless and powerful father, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) comes for his boy, Lonergan faces a good ol’ fashioned middle of the street showdown. Winner walks, loser goes in the ground. Interesting. Right?
Then aliens attack. Uh oh.
The frustrating thing about Favreau’s latest blockbuster is that there’s probably a good western in here. Utilising a supporting cast from some of TVs better Western shows like Deadwood, Carnivàle and Justified gives a surprisingly well realised authenticity. Ford too, has long been due a visit to the Wild West and would be an inspired pick if he had anything to do beyond grunting. Craig continues a trend of looking not quite there in his roles while Wilde, genuinely likable in just about everything she’s starred in, gets stuck with a muddled love interest/sage/heroine role.
And then there’s the aliens. The Rango spliced with ’90s steroid juicing wrestlers-looking aliens. Their arrival spells not only terrible CGI but monstrously awful plot development – not surprising considering writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci’s last gig was Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen – and advancing using inspired tricks like reincarnation and peyote induced tell all dreams.
This would all be forgivable were the action any use. The prospect of alien technology against rudimentary weapons is a fun one, probing versus hog tying, plasma rifles with the power to disintegrate a man versus six-shooters. A shame then that the final battle suffers from you being so visually assaulted with computer generated beasts that it’s impossible to conceive what’s happening before your eyes. On the plus side, at least it’s not in 3D.
What looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily look good on celluloid, and Cowboys & Aliens shows Hollywood should maybe hold off on greenlighting at the brainstorming stage on the back of a catchy concept. Unless it’s Dinosaurs & Nazis. Somebody needs to make it.