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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine and Noah Ringer
DIRECTED BY
Jon Favreau
SCREENPLAY
Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Comic Book)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
118 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Universal Pictures
DVD EXTRAS
  • Finding the Story Filmmakers, writers and cast explain why this particular team of Hollywood heavyweights hit the right note to bring this project, based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg,to be big screen.
  • Outer-Space Icon Take a closer look at the creation of a new, terrifying ALIEN design from Legacy Effects and Industrial Light and Magic.
  • The Scope of the Spectacle We are on set for the massive shoot in New Mexico, with the stars as they ride horses, shoot guns, jump from explosions, and get yanked 80 feet in the air and more! 
  • Feature Commentary with director Jon Favreau
  • Blu-Ray has a ton more extras!
 "Cowboys & Aliens" Review 
Director Jon Favreau has long ago proven to have a rather innate ability to tape into a multitude of genres, occasionally twisting them and tying them together with results both miraculous and ridiculous.

Seriously, before Elf did anyone actually believe that Will Ferrell could act? While you may not consider Elf to be a contemporary holiday classic (I do!), it's hard not to admire Favreau's wondrous ability to weave together the best of Rankin & Bass, the goofy charm of Will Ferrell, Christmas classics from past and present and such an abundance of heart and humor so successfully. While he's not always been successful (Zathura: A Space Adventure), even at his worst he's managed to create a film that was at least unique enough that it demanded viewing.

"Cowboys & Aliens" looked like it could be one of Summer 2011's more original cinematic releases, a hilarious weaving together of the cowboy genre, alien flicks and the action/thriller. With a rather goofy premise but a stellar cast, Cowboys & Aliens looked like it would be either really, really amazing or it would completely and utterly suck.

The weird thing is that neither one is true.

Nowhere near the best of Favreau's offerings nor as wildly uneven as Zathura, Cowboys & Aliens  is practically the definition of a mildly entertaining and faintly amusing action flick. It certainly isn't awful, but it should have been so much more.

Jake (Daniel Craig), the preferred name for cinematic cowboys, wakes up alone in the New Mexico desert of the 19th century with a serious wound and an elaborate manacle around his wrist. He is immediately put upon by a menacing trio of obviously ill-meaning cowboy types who don't take quietly to his ways. He quickly dispatches them and wanders off into the rather sparsely populated town of Absolution, where he subsequently plays rescuer to a dweebish saloon owner (Sam Rockwell) being harassed by the son (Paul Dano) of the town's resident baddie who also happens to be the richest man in town, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Just about the time everybody's about to commence to fighting, the desert town is attacked by aliens and people start to be plucked away by alien ships that could easily serve as bungee jump portals once retired.

Cowboys & Aliens has an all-star cast and A-list producers, including both Spielberg and Ron Howard, but somehow manages to be a rather soulless adventure with only occasionally amusing set-ups, a few intriguing action shots and very light laughs that fail miserably to mine the potential for both laughs and adventure in the film.

As is so often true, Daniel Craig is the highlight here as a soft-spoken yet intensely driven cowboy with an abundance of emotional baggage and a score to settle with an enemy he doesn't even know. Most actors would have turned Jake into a sort of knight in shining armor, but Craig's Jake possesses a dirty and weathered machismo that feels both powerful and vulnerable. While Ford's not quite as successful mostly owing to a fairly one-note character development, his performance is among his most pleasing in recent years. Ford embodies Woodrow Dolarhyde as a rather grizzled and guarded tyrant, yet he's also rather touchingly warm in just the right moments. It's amazing to know that Ford just turned 69-years-old, yet he still manages to make for a convincing action star.

Unfortunately, after Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford the film starts to suffer in its casting and character development. Olivia Wilde plays a mysterious woman who keeps following Jake, yet she does so in such an obvious way that it's clear quite early on exactly what is going on with her. Paul Dano is woefully miscast and, in fact, Favreau would have been much better off if he'd switched out Dano and Rockwell. Dano would have made for a much more convincing dweebish saloon owner, while Rockwell would have added tremendous depth to the rather crucial role of Dolarhyde's trouble making son.  Adam Beach does manage to leave a positive impression as a ranch hand taken in by Dolarhyde at a young age.

To Favreau's credits, Cowboys & Aliens is one of the few alien films in recent memory to actually give decent screen time to the actual aliens. Whereas so many films lately seem to only fleetingly show the aliens, they're present in abundance throughout Cowboys & Aliens.

Matthew Libatique, who lensed Black Swan, does a terrific job of balancing the film's lighter and darker settings without jarring the senses too dramatically. The original score by Harry Gregson-Williams is generally pleasing, though a bit too cartoonish in spots. Scott Chambliss does a nice job with the production design, somehow managing to create the perfect alien habitat smack dab in the middle of the wild, wild west.

Cowboys & Aliens isn't an awful film ... not by any means. It's simply a disappointing film that fails to capitalize on its incredibly unique premise and promise. Favreau never really fully commits to either the comedy or the sci-fi thrills and, as a result, Cowboys & Aliens ends up feeling far more bland than one would think possible from such an offbeat concept.

For a film that should have been out of this world, Cowboys & Aliens is disappointingly down to earth.


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

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