Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Truth in the title

A memory impaired man (Daniel Craig) awakes with a strange metal shackle on his wrist and a wound on his side. After showcasing hidden skills like a 19th century Jason Bourne on some rough and tough dudes, he heads to the nearest town of Absolution only to find more hassles. He deals with a spoiled, troublemaker named Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who's father is a not-to-be-messed-with head honcho of sorts. Percy lands in jail and soon enough the man with no memory ends up in the cell next door, as he turns out to be the infamous Jake Lonergan who has a rap sheet longer than the Oregon Trail. When Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) gets word of his incarcerated son, he storms the streets with his cowboys. Right before a tense showdown, the alien part of the equation shows to make things go boom and people disappear. Jake's bracelet suddenly turns into Mega Man status and he blasts one of the ships down with an energy beam. The creature that operated the vessel flees and they round up a posse to track it back to where their kidnapped loved ones are.

"Cowboys & Aliens" is more about the journey to the final showdown involving various characters that it incidentally never fully scratches below the introductory surface on. It makes a few of them at times more plot devices than natural, especially the woman who feels penciled in after the fact to conveniently solve or perpetuate Jake's issues. Along tags a bartender who's more business than brawn; a mysterious woman who eyes Jake; a practical preacher who knows how to pray and shoot; a young boy who's not yet a man; a loyal Indian who looks at his boss as a father figure; and the former colonel Dolarhyde who's got a thing or two to teach the youngins about battle. Now, where westerns in the past had everybody out for their ruthless selves, this uses the enslaving extraterrestrials as a means to get along for the greater good of humanity, including fierce outlaws and warrior Indians who are in the same dire straits. In the meantime, no one ever claimed the abominable aliens didn't have punctuality as they make a few well-timed appearances to the point of predictably just before a human vs human conflict is about to get all gun crazy. Though like throwing a rock at a tank, these basic, booze-drinkin', boot-wearin' westerners look to be completely overrun and overwhelmed. That is until they have to get sneaky and use strength in numbers to put a stop to the aliens, which at this point are so one-dimensional the movie plays out like an easily sold good vs evil template with nothing left over to put in the bank to accumulate interest.

This is more the former than the latter of the title. The western portion on its own isn't groundbreaking to the genre, and the sci-fi side isn't inventive enough to blow the lid off a long time fan, even if the combination is definitely original. Other aspects to fall back on like the pacing can feel like it revs the engine, then levels at a lower gear. This wouldn't be such an issue but it's not that contemplative of a film to hit the locker room in between for a break, and as a result creates a building list of questions from the viewer that never end up answered about certain plays. It's a film that treads more on mystery when it comes to its antagonists, by at first seeing a shadow, a claw and then a quick full frontal, as well as it only gives little snippets of information for the viewer. Problem is, it doesn't create that intriguing enough of creatures to pull the enigma off--no communication, no interaction with each other, very few distinguishing elements with behavior or appearance--or even go further into why they're on Earth other than laying out a questionable reason at face-value.

Daniel Craig played a simple but commanding presence, as he said little but when it came time for action delivered with full force as if he meant it, and then some. It causes you to focus in on him to not miss his next move, despite getting knocked about with a lesser blow or two on occasion. Clancy Brown plays a memorable role as a tough holy man that adds humor to the situations, but Chris Browning includes cartoon flavor with his crusty chompers and oafish demeanor. Paul Dano, as much as he tried and has the most range, his performance felt misplaced as if he's a tortured man rather than just a fearful kid with no perspective from growing up safe and spoiled. Harrison Ford's character is built up and built up, with other people making not only a legend of him but a power not to be reckoned with, though by the time it comes for him to show his stuff, he falls somewhat short on punch. It's a shame that some of his gruff lines come off as unflattering imitations rather than truly compelling. On an entertainment level, you get massive explosions, O.K. Corral-thumping gun fights, built up thrills, mystery, situational humor, potential love, tragedy, resolution and you get to see two separate genres at the same time. It sounds like a lot, but it didn't always come one after the other or always in a smooth, edge-of-your-seat transition together. The mentioned certainly made this enjoyable and an interesting concept to see but unfortunately it wasn't capable of thoroughly traveling beyond expectations for such a cool premise even with all the budget and all the talent it mustered for a central goal with two contrasting but potentially complementing sides.

Rating: 6/10

Director: John Favreau (Made, Iron Man 1 & 2)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Keith Carradine, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Olivia Wilde, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown
Website: IMDB

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