When the Cowboys and Aliens trailer dropped earlier this year, it was a hit. It quickly became one of the most anticipated summer blockbusters of the season not to be part of a franchise. Although the film does not succumb to utter stupidity, Cowboys and Aliens never takes off, and is something of a dud.
Cowboys and Aliens somewhat follows a traditional Western story: A mysterious gunslinger (Daniel Craig) rides into town and saves it from a band of nefarious outsiders. However, in this case, the enemy is a brigade of abduction-happy aliens, and the gunslinger is an amnesia-ridden UFO escapee with an alien gauntlet strapped to his arm.
Blending cowboy and aliens together in one film is obviously anachronistic, and it would be easy for any Corman-wannabe to play both genres against the other ironically, but director Jon Favreau manages to merge two together seamlessly. Unfortunately, that is the film’s only good quality.
What makes or breaks any genre film is the plot and characters. The plot of Cowboys and Aliens never deviates from anything standard, and the characters play to their appropriate archetypes well enough, but they never go any further with them, which is a shame since the film boasts a cast of fine actors. Conversely, Favreau allowed his actors to round out their characters in Iron Man, and the film was a massive success. Why the director did not do the same here is a mystery.
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make for a curious, potentially excitable duo as two morally ambiguous cowboys, but Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef they ain’t; never has such a promising pair been so mediocre. Beauty du jour Olivia Wilde- though a decent actress- does little but lurk in the background shooting intense gazes at Craig. She does provide some obligatory near-nudity, but even that does nothing for the film or adolescent libido.
Amongst the best of the cast are Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown as the town’s saloon owner and preacher, respectively. Both men succeed in breathing a little more life in their characters than the rest, but are, alas, underused. Amongst the worst is a young boy (Noah Ringer), who just tags alongside the grownups and is there for sake of being so; but what else would you expect from the star of The Last Airbender?
In Cowboys and Aliens, there are cowboys and there are aliens. Although they play together better than expected, that’s all there is, and not much else.