In the land of stale remakes, Cowboys & Aliens is unique and cleverly titled, but disappointingly, Cowboys & Aliens is a popcorn flick at best. Cowboys & Aliens is somewhat entertaining and a complete visual spectacle, but overall it has little substance. These days if it has anything to do with aliens, Steven Spielberg is associated with it. Cowboys & Aliens is no exception. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Cowboys & Aliens is loosely based on the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Regrettably, the film took the graphic novel’s concept and left the comic book on the writing room floor.
Cowboys & Aliens starts as most classic westerns do, a lone stranger with amnesia (Jake Lonergan) wanders into a small forgotten town, Absolution, Arizona. Gotta love that name, ‘Absolution.’ This particular stranger (Daniel Craig) happens to have an equally strange bracelet on his arm. As any amnesiac would, he soon attracts unwanted attention from the town’s mandatory characters: a hard-nosed cattle rancher, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the rancher’s crazy son, Percy (Paul Dano), the good-hearted sheriff (Keith Carradine), the town preacher (Clancy Brown), the jumpy bar keep (Sam Rockwell), the rancher’s loyal Indian cowhand (Adam Beach), and, last but not least, the saloon girl, Ella (Olivia Wilde). I’m not sure what purpose Olivia has in the story except as obligatory eye-candy. I would note that Harrison Ford was especially enjoyable to watch in his role as a ruthless rancher in the old west.
When Jake’s true identity as a stagecoach robber is revealed, all heck breaks loose. Before the townsfolk can tear Jake apart, the town is attacked by aliens and a good portion of the townspeople are abducted. Wouldn’t you know that the metal bracelet on Jake’s wrist turns into a weapon that evens the odds–think Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Rio Bravo, and War of the Worlds mixed in one pot of under-spiced stew. The western aspect of the film is compelling. Surprisingly, the film loses steam once the science fiction segment is added. At that point, the film quickly descends into over-used alien invader clichés.
After the attack, all of the old western stereotypes are forced to band together to rescue the townsfolk and fight off the alien invaders—that’s it. That’s the gist of the entire film. If you’ve seen the trailer for Cowboys & Aliens then you’ve seen the best part of the movie. Admittedly, parts of the film are fun to watch, but it’s not worth a $9-$10 admission. Save yourself $4 and go to the matinee. Director Jon Favreau can certainly do better.
For a better western sci-fi film rent 2009’s The Burrowers. The Burrowers (also starring Clancy Brown) is about the mysterious disappearance of settlers on the old western frontier.