Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Horror Film Review

Cowboys & Aliens (2011):  I know it's not technically a horror film, but how often do I go to movies on opening weekend?  Never.  I'm cheap.  There are some nasty, murderous ETs, so my conscience is clear.  Besides...you got James Bond and Indiana Jones fighting side by side.  How cool is that?  Well, turns out it could have been a lot cooler.

I guess this is what they call a "high concept" picture, Hollywood-speak for something you don't see every day.  It goes like this:  Arizona, 1873, and folks in and around the tiny mining town of Absolution are getting snatched by roving packs of harassing space ships.  Daniel Craig shows up in town with amnesia and big-ass bracelet he can't remove.  (We find out he's outlaw Jake Lonergan who managed to escape from the aliens' lair.)  The town is under the thumb of rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a mean bastard with a cowardly punk for a son (Paul Dano is Percy Dolarhyde).  Sam Rockwell is Doc, saloon owner and, well, doc.  His wife Maria (Ana de la Reguara), along with Percy get abducted.  Also abducted is Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine), leaving behind his pre-teen grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer).  Then there's mystery woman Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who's either smitten with or stalking Lonergan.  And as with all westerns, there's a dog.  The boy names him Dog.  Right.  Anyway...

All animosity between Dolarhyde and Lonegran is put aside as they team up to rescue the townsfolk.  They're attacked by the alien ships, Ella is killed, and then marauding Apaches take them prisoner.  The captors place Ella on a funeral pyre...only to have her wake up and walk out of the flames unscathed.  Turns out she's a good alien here to stop the bad ones.  All friends now, the Apache medicine man gives Lonegran a concoction to drink to restore his memory.  It works, and we see he and his girlfriend (Abigail Spencer) get abducted and then are experimented on.  Lonegran watched in horror as she burned to ash right in front of him.  During his struggle to escape, he accidentally attached the bracelet ray gun to his arm.  Memory returned, Lonegran leads the whole group back to the alien ship for some butt-kicking and townsfolk-saving.

It took me a while to figure what's wrong with this picture.  When I did, it annoyed me.  Favreau is a better filmmaker than this.  Either he rushed it to meet a release date or he's getting lazy.  Cowboys & Aliens trots out every cliche under the setting sun.  The aliens are one-dimensional, and when you find out why they've come to earth, you won't believe it (not in a good way).  The story moves too slow, the action scenes are repetitive and uninspired.  Rockwell is reduced to a bit player with really lame lines.  The most interesting supporting characters are either abducted right away and off screen until the rescue or killed off.  Favreau should have gone for a more tongue-in-cheek approach instead of taking the serious route.  We end up with a horrid mish-mash of Pale Rider and Independence Day.  The wasted potential here borders on criminal.  Steven Spielberg is an executive producer, and I can't help but wonder how awesome this movie would have been in his hands.  As it is, the man should have at least checked up on the production once in a while and offered some advice.  Or kicked some ass.

As for Craig and Ford...it was a lot of fun watching them.  Their scenes together were electric.  A mistake was made, I think, in not making Ford's character more unlikable.  He more of a curmudgeon than a bastard, really.  But who cares?  It's Harrison Ford.  As for Daniel Craig, he simply owns the Lonegran character and plays him with a quiet intensity that is almost mesmerizing.  One last thing you may find interesting:  someone in this movie ends up dressed suspiciously like Han Solo. 

The Breakdown

Acting:  Craig is excellent.  Ford, very good.  Wilde, good.  The rest, to be honest, do not matter.  Might as well have gotten them from central casting.
Story:  Grrr.  It need a few more re-writes...and maybe some lighter fluid and a match. 
Direction:  So incredibly loose and unfocused I can't believe Favreau was sober...or even on the set at all. 
Production Values:  Higher than an orbiting Death Star.  (That's it for the Star Wars references.)
Gore/FX:  There's some blood and alien goo but nothing to lose your lunch over.  The CGI is not impressive, yet still better than what you'd see on original SyFy Channel movies.
Scares:  You'd think no, but surprisingly there were a few.  A woman sitting in front of me jumped out of her seat at least twice.  I didn't, but then again, it takes a lot for me.
The Ending:  Eh.  It ended.  Nothing special.  No twists.  Almost too neatly wrapped, I felt. 
The Verdict:  Should you see Cowboys & Aliens?  If you keep your expectations low, like snake-pecker low, then I think you should.  I mean, come on...Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig?  Oh, yeah.  And Olivia Wilde.  If you like that kind of thing...

My Rating2 out of 5 stars.

Fun Fact:  When asked what he thought of the title for the film, Ford said, "Well, what the hell else are you going to call it?"


  1. Hey, this is great! Do I need to send you money so you can review more of the current flicks for us? Seriously, I like that you reviewed this. Think I can wait on this one.

  2. Now that's an idea. I'd love to be a professional movie critic. As it is, I've gotten burned too many times to do that. Dropping nine bucks for a film that sucks is really irritating. For some reason, that bothers me more than shelling out ten bucks for popcorn and soda...