Cowboys and Aliens. That’s a pretty great movie title. It gives you everything you need to know about the movie. It ranks up there with Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine for simple, descriptive, and surprisingly memorable titles. And when you get a title like this, you expect something fun. What you don’t expect is a dull, clichéd Western.
Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no idea how he got there and he’s wearing a mysterious armband. Once he makes his way to town, he finds out that he’s a wanted man…and then aliens attack and abduct half the town, leaving whoever’s left to journey and try to get them back.
The first problem is that I may be exaggerating a little if I say half the townspeople are really in this movie, but there are a lot of characters. The entire movie leading up to the initial alien attack is just introducing characters and subplots. This would be fine if any of these characters are compelling, but they’re just cliché after cliché. And not even likeable clichés, they’re just there. And they all go through their prescribed character development arcs. Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde starts off as an unlikable asshole? Oh, he’s going to become friends with the kid in the group. Sam Rockwell’s Doc (I seriously did not know the name of his character during the movie, and now I look at IMDB and find they just called him Doc?) starts off being unable to fire a gun. Do you think that maybe, in the final battle, he’ll get an incredible shot on an alien? I won’t spoil it for you, in case you’ve never seen a movie in the last 50 years.
Of course, a cast of clichés can just be nodded at if the movie’s fun enough. But everybody is taking this thing dead serious. There’s no comedy moments, there’s not even any one-liners. The entire cast is just going through this thing like they expected it to be the next intelligent sci-fi film. It’s COWBOYS and ALIENS. Of course, the few moments that could’ve added a dash of humor are hurt by the fact that Daniel Craig can’t sell comedy (or, really, do anything besides look good without a shirt on) to save his life. At one point, they’re on a structure with dynamite, and somebody drops the matches. A moment of panic, until Craig pulls the cigar out of the other man’s mouth. It could’ve been a hilarious moment, but nobody sells it.
The aliens themselves are given no motivation. We eventually find out the reason they’re on Earth, but not really the why of it. It’s the flimsiest of excuses; again, something that could’ve worked fine for a fun movie, but it’s dead serious. So we end up with clichéd heroes vs. flat villains. Although the aliens do provide the best part of this movie: the special effects. They’re pretty incredible. Both ships and the aliens themselves look fantastic. The action sequences are decent enough because of that, but you’re sitting through so much movie on the way there that you’re probably bored out of your mind by the time you get there.
Cowboys and Aliens is a waste of talent and a title. It’s not necessarily a bad movie. I just felt that I could’ve spent 2 hours watching a blank TV screen and gotten the same effect. It’s there. It didn’t really thrill, entertain, or cause me to think in that time. It just was.