While the title of the film doesn’t lie — there are indeed cowboys and aliens — there’s not much else in this half-developed space western. While the premise of the film left plenty of opportunities to marry these two popular genres, a predictable story line and a slew of one-dimensional characters make this film a bust.
The first part of the film is wonderfully executed, proving that director Jon Favreau hasn’t lost his touch. Outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up wounded in the middle of an Arizona desert without any recollection of who he is, where he’s from or why he has a futuristic metal bracelet strapped to his wrist. Think Jason Bourne crossed with Wayne Newton.
When three men saddle up to Lonergan, he quickly kills the trio and steals a horse to ride into the nearby town of Absolution. In this town, all its residents answer to grizzled war-veteran-turned-rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It’s no surprise when Lonergan manages to get into a bar fight, get thrown in jail and tussles with Dolarhyde’s son, Percy (Paul Dano), it leads to an old-fashioned stare down between Lonergan and Dolarhyde.
That’s when those alien varmints arrive and they lay waste to the town and abduct a handful of residents, including Percy and the town’s sheriff (Keith Carradine) — two delightful characters whose screen time was cut way too short.
Lonergan and Dolarhyde decide to join forces and gallop into the Wild West in hopes of finding the town’s lost people. A mysterious woman, Elle (Olivia Wilde), who seems to know more about the aliens than she is letting on, accompanies the gentlemen on their hunt.
It’s here that the film loses steam.
In the middle of the Arizona desert, the plot bounces from cowboys versus aliens, to cowboys versus a gang of murderous outlaws, to cowboys, a gang of murderous outlaws and a tribe of noble Apache Indians versus Aliens.
The last hour of the film is riddled with clichés and introduces characters audience members don’t care about — one of them being Lonergan’s girlfriend who was abducted by aliens.
There’s plenty of action in the film, especially during final scenes, which culminates in an all out war between the humans and aliens. Of course, the aliens are the hands down favorite — they have space ships, fast legs, sharp claws and superior lassoing technology — but they underestimate the resilience of the human race.
A suburb acting cast couldn’t salvage the script for “Cowboys & Aliens.”
The three leads — Craig, Ford and Wilde — delivered wonderful performances, but ultimately the film fell flat due to a lack of direction.
Directed by Jon Favreau. 118 minutes.
Three out of five stars.