What happens when you combine James Bond, Indiana Jones, the director of Iron Man, cowboys and aliens - oh, and Olivia Wilde - stir them all up in a $160-million-budgeted pot and launch the resulting sci-fi western to the big screen? Not what you'd think. Mildly enjoyable but ultimately disappointing, Cowboys & Aliens has the elements of success, except director Jon Favreau forgot to make it fun.
In Cowboys & Aliens, a man named Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert unaware of who he is or how he got there. He has a weird device strapped to his wrist. After stumbling into a nearby town, he discovers he's a wanted man - and especially wanted by the local kingpin Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). But when aliens attack and start abducting townspeople - including Woodrow's son - the two enemies team up to fight back, and possibly save the world.
Cowboys & Aliens was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. The previews were great, the pedigree of those involved solid, and the premise simply awesome. Expectations were high, and unfortunately Cowboys & Aliens didn't meet them.
The movie, admittedly, is mildly entertaining. It's never boring and there's enough going on to hold attention. It's by no means a disaster, and is so close to being great. But it just isn't.
I blame Jon Favreau.
The problem is that while Cowboys & Aliens has a decent amount of action and some humor, the action isn't very good and the movie isn't much fun. Early on during the marketing blitz for the film, when audiences were cracking up at the sheer notion of a movie titled Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau and others set out to establish that the movie was a by-the-numbers-western and was not a comedy.
They weren't kidding.
Cowboys & Aliens does play out like a straightforward western - and in that regard it works - but suffers from the fact that its cowboys also have to fight aliens. The mix of genres, the battle of cowboys, aliens (and of course Indians... er, native Americans) should be fun. Needs to be fun. And it just isn't.
The movie didn't need to be funny, though that would have helped, but it takes itself so seriously that it's hard to really enjoy the movie. It never engaged me in the way I was expecting, and certainly didn't keep me guessing as to what crazy thing was going to happen next.
Because it just isn't that crazy.
The lack of a fun factor is also reflected in the action. Favreau blew people away with the surprising Iron Man, which had some intense bursts of grinning-from-ear-to-ear action. I expected the same here, but the action falls way short. It's dull, unimaginative and not very fun to watch. Sure, the initial invasion scene is sort of cool - even though you've already seen it in the previews - and there are a few other moments that are okay - but once the credits roll, I stood up, scratched my head and questioned where the $160 million budget went. The action scenes in Cowboys & Aliens should be intense, fun and most of all unique - but all it offers is run-of-the-mill stuff.
The climax is also disappointing. Even though the aliens have superior technology and are hard to kill, the humans manage to devise a strategically vacant way to fight back - essentially run at the aliens and shoot - that completely fails to evoke the "Humans, f**k yeah!" mentality that more enjoyable alien invasion flicks - like Independence Day - seem to do effortlessly.
Still, for what it's worth, Cowboys & Aliens isn't disastrous. Both Craig and Ford are good in their respective roles - I do like seeing Ford play out-of-character, even though he reverts back to typical Ford by the end of the movie - and carry the film as best they can. Olivia Wilde is terrible, thanks to her horribly written and uninspiring character, but at least she's scorching hot.
Unfortunately, the movie is not. Cowboys & Aliens might make an okay rental, but Favreau failed to take the bull by the horns and wrangle this beast in a satisfying way.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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