Film review: COWBOYS AND ALIENS, from Built for Speed

As David Letterman recently pointed out, Cowboys and Aliens is one of the least ambiguous movie titles going, there’s cowboys and there’s aliens, same as there were snakes on a plane in a film that will remain nameless.  While the plot barely rises above the title in terms of complexity, the film still attempts the ambitious feat of uniting two disparate genres, the western and the sci fi movie.  While rare, vaguely similar movie mash-ups have been attempted before. There was the western meets dinosaur combo Valley of Gwangi and the western meets mad scientist turkey Wild Wild West. While Cowboys vs Aliens is certainly much better than Wild Wild West, it mostly jettisons the rich potential of both the western and sci fi genres in favour of a clichéd action flick.

Daniel Craig stars as the stereotypical  mysterious stranger prowling the lawless prairie lands in the old west. This at first seems an unusual role for the very English Bond star but as he’s almost exclusively required to punch and shoot things, it’s a pretty good fit. Craig does an ok American accent but being the taciturn tough guy means he doesn’t have to talk much and expose too many cracks in the accent. In a remarkably unoriginal turn of events he slaps around the bullying, slime-ball son of the local rich, sadistic cattle baron (Harrison Ford) forcing a showdown between him and the old man.  Somewhat less expected is the alien spacecraft bombing mission that disrupts the shootout and forces all human parties to unite against the intergalactic menace.

Undemanding action junkies will be pleased to know that plot and character development quickly capitulate in favour of ear-shreddingly loud shootouts and explosions. Any hope that the film might explore the carefully codified world of the classic westerns or demonstrate the staggering imagination of the best sci fi is very quickly obliterated.

As meat and taties action, though, it’s ok and it features some impressively realistic spaceship effects.  Unfortunately, the aliens who pilot them are the usual jerky, sinew, loping creatures who look like deformed rugby players.  The film also commits the two cardinal sins of the monster movie: inconsistent toughness and pissweak monster.  The aliens are as tough as superman one minute then as weak as the Carry On films’ Charles Hawtrey the next.

Cowboys and Aliens is not an acting feast, Ford is half hearted as the nuggetty bad guy in need of redemption and he has to deliver the most cliched lines.  Craig is of course a great action hero but it would have been good if he had been given the chance exhibit some type of emotion.  There’s ok support from the likes of Clancy Brown and Sam Rockwell despite their clichéd roles of whiskey drinkin’ preacher and wimpy humanitarian barkeep respectively.  Olivia Wilde also appears as a perfectly manicured super-model mysteriously living in a rough as guts wild west town.

The film often sails perilously close to being unintentionally funny and there’s no threat of it taxing your intellect.  If, however, you’re just after computer generated destruction this one’s for you.

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