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Cowboys & Aliens - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cowboys & Aliens
Directing: C+
Acting: B
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: C+
Special Effects: B-

What's not to love about a genre mash-up of Western and Alien Invasion? Well, if director Jon Favreau (who did both Iron Man films) is any indication, just about all of it. The one possible exception is that Daniel Craig's hot body still shows rather nicely through his cowboy getups. But is that reason enough to see this ridiculously -- almost gallingly -- derivative movie?

The concept alone is great, and a savvy marketing campaign made it look as though the film might live up to it. But the fundamental flaw in Cowboys & Aliens is that, if taken strictly as a Western, it's just like a hundred other Westerns that came before it. And if taken strictly as an alien invasion movie, it's just like a hundred other alien invasion movies that came before it. It has none of the inventiveness nor any of the cheekiness that are both clearly hinted at by the title alone.

Granted, it starts off promising enough: the quiet of an open shot scanning the nineteenth century Arizona landscape is interrupted by one Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), just awoken in the desert but unable to remember how he got there, how he got an unusual wound on his (ripped) abdomen, or how he got this strange metal contraption stuck around his wrist.

But all of this was covered in the trailers. In the film itself, Favreau offers all the promise and excitement of those trailers in the first several scenes, but never provides the payoff the audience deserves. The written-by-committee script (five credited writers) lacks vision and indicates a studio riding on concept alone but clearly believing they can rake in the cash by sticking to what seems to them to have worked in the past.

The amnesiac Lonergan finds himself in a small town ruled through intimidation by cattle rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, kind of fun), who spoils his reckless and cowardly son (Paul Dano) and discovers Lonergan to be a wanted outlaw. Meanwhile, a mystery woman (Abigail Spencer) seems to know more about Lonergan than he knows about himself. And, naturally, the woman turns out to be not what she seems.

It's this moment, actually -- where the mystery woman reveals herself for what she really is -- that Cowboys & Aliens starts to go off the rails. It takes a turn for the ridiculous, even by its own proudly ridiculous standards. Through all of this there's a subplot regarding cowboys and Native Americans learning to work together against a common enemy that is so condescending it borders on offensive.

Furthermore, we see too much of the alien creatures themselves. The first half hour or so is fairly satisfying in its build-up, but then the action gets underway and nothing is left a mystery. It becomes either all action or all overdone Western plot devices, at which point what is there left to hold our attention? I actually got bored. The creatures themselves are the same old slimy gooey three-fingered crab-monsters. Yawn.

This movie could have so much better, so much more fun. Its greatest problem is that it takes itself seriously, in spite of its very title offering at least a taste of some subversive campiness. Even Independence Day gamely played with the tropes of an overdone genre; this one just takes the same-old, same-old of two genres and squishes them together. What studio executive thought that alone would be enough?

Cowboys battle flying ropers in -- what else? -- 'Cowboys & Aliens'.

Overall: C+
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