Cowboys & Aliens

I thought the idea of this film was so outrageous it was brilliant. The trailers were enticing. I was in line at the opening show in the morning at the Carolina.

And oh, the beginning was terrific. Hunky Daniel Craig finds himself waking up in the desert, not knowing who he is or what that strange irremovable shackle on his wrist is. Three bad guys ride up and hassle him and then wham–those bad guys are toast. Seems that weird bracelet is a powerful weapon. Daniel pulls together a really sexy cowboy outfit from the remains of the bad guys and rides into town–a dire place named Absolution–get it?–the Biblical overtones in the movie are as subtle as they are in all the classic westerns.

An annoying rich kid, played by Paul Dano, insults the townspeople and makes everybody wish he would disappear. He’s especially mean to one of my favorite actors, Sam Rockwell, who plays the meek saloon keeper. Then Paul tangles with Daniel — wrong thing for a punk kid to do–who kicks him in the you know where and in the tussle Paul accidentally shoots a state deputy. Uh oh, the kid is thrown in the pokey.

Next comes the classic stranger in town at the bar scene with incredible lighting and clenched jaws and fond remembrances of spaghetti westerns running through your head. Daniel shows everybody what a good fighter he is and gets the better of a handful of guys with bad intentions. Then “the girl,” played by Olivia Wilde, wearing a totally cool long, pale gown with an even cooler leather belt and holster at her waist, whacks him on the head and knocks him out. Then he gets thrown in the pokey where he head-butts Paul Dano through the bars in their cells. The audience cheered.

So far pretty good. I’m having a grand old time. Then it gets better. Cattle baron Harrison Ford and his guys ride in on a bunch of really good looking horses, wanting to get his ne’er do well son out of jail. But the sheriff, rugged David Carradine, wants the kid to learn a lesson, so he throws him in the prison carriage and sends both scofflaws off down the street toward the state capitol.

And then the aliens come. I mean these bad guys are right out of Transformers. They are big and mean and shiny and they swoop down like behemoth locusts. They fling out shiny chains and lasso whatever unfortunates they can reach and carry them cloud-ward. It’s pretty awesome actually, seeing these poor people being airlifted into the bellies of these disgusting alien craft. Paul Dano is one of the ones who gets taken and his father Harrison Ford, feeling bad for raising such a worthless kid, wants to get him back to apologize.

It seems that for a long time now–and on more worlds than Earth–these horrible space craft have been kidnapping people. Where do they go? What happens to them? Will they ever come back? And will Daniel Craig’s missing memories relate somehow to these extraterrestrials? Will he ever figure out who is the beautiful woman in the photo he carries? The flashbacks fill in a lot of the missing info–and they’re scary, too.

In short order, Daniel and Harrison join forces to find the aliens and rescue the humans. Along the way, an Indian tribe, Arapaho, I think but don’t quote me — who has also lost people, join them. Everyone rides hard and determined through the incredible desert canyon scenery. There really is no place on Earth quite like the desolate New Mexico desert and in director Jon Favreau’s extraordinarily capable hands (Iron Man), the landscape is just as remarkable as the explosions and gun fights. His respect for the western genre was obvious and inspiring. You can have a wonderful time throughout the movie trying to determine which traditional westerns he borrowed from.

Oh yeah, the aliens. They’re pretty disgusting. If you liked Alien and Predators, you’ll appreciate their kinship. Did I mention big and mean? And did I mention there’s a lot of them? What they’re doing in the desert is pretty interesting so I won’t reveal that piece of information. Let’s suffice it to say, lots of things happen, lots of tunnels, lots of explosions and dead bodies, both human and extraterrestrial, get thrown around in the final battle for Planet Earth.

I loved the “western” part of Cowboys & Aliens. I just can’t stand aliens whose only villainy is ugliness and brute force. I like my villains to have a craft evil mind, or minds. So I got bored silly. But my movie pal, who likes aliens no matter what type they are, thought the whole movie was great. He said he’d give it 5 stars. But since I only liked 4/5ths of it, I’m giving it 4.

Cowboys & Aliens, surprisingly, is not living up to its predicted buzz. It tied with The Smurfs for the #1 spot its opening week, which is pretty embarrassing for a high budget, heavily promoted summer extravaganza. My recommendation: definitely see the movie, and see it in the theatre, especially if you like westerns and watching old guys like Harrison Ford having entirely too much fun. If you don’t like aliens that much, then head for the bargain matinee.

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