Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford in Dull ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” with Daniel Craig & Harrison Ford is a depressing snooze, a film with so many of the right elements but none of the personality to connect them into something memorable. With so many revisions from a number of writers, it feels like everyone added their own color to the piece until it all faded to gray.

“Cowboys & Aliens” starts promisingly largely due to the fact that the basic foundational premise of the piece is strong and the cast is entertaining in that “isn’t it cool to see James Bond and Indiana Jones in the same movie” kind of way. But that novelty wears off. Quickly. And by the time the posse has been formed and the cowboys are chasing off the aliens, the air has gone out of the piece rarely to return. There’s no edge to the movie, like something that has been focus-grouped down to absolutely nothing or a game of “pass the screenplay” where the writers simply pushed the plot forward instead of adding things like character, interesting dialogue, or even enjoyable action.

Cowboys and Aliens
Cowboys and Aliens
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of anything but the English language and a bizarre metal clamp around his wrist. After dispatching a few bad guys looking to take him in for ransom, he stumbles into a small town and upon an altercation between the obnoxious Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) and the local barkeep Doc (Sam Rockwell). Percy has a powerful padre in Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and is clearly one of those spoiled brats who thinks he can do anything because of it.

After Percy shoots an innocent man, Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) is forced to arrest him and, soon after, he comes for Jake when he sees a wanted poster revealing that our hero is a hardened criminal. Someone else has been following Jake in the form of the wide-eyed Ella (Olivia Wilde). Why is she so fascinated with Jake? What’s her background? The obvious answers will come in obvious ways.

The relatively-traditional Western tale of a mysterious newcomer in town shifts into sci-fi after everyone is gathered for a showdown “High Noon”-style and alien spaceships swoop in, rain down some explosions, and kidnap a few townspeople. The remaining cowboys form a team to get back their friends and loved ones and follow the bizarre alien footprints into the desert.

Cowboys and Aliens
Cowboys and Aliens
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Clearly, the concept is strong – blending Western archetypes with modern special effects and blockbuster storytelling. It’s strong enough that an amazing number of writers found it interesting enough to give it a shot. Hold on to your cowboy hat – Scott Mitchell Rosenberg wrote the comic book, then Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Steve Oedekerk are credited with the screen story before Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof and Fergus & Ostby get screenplay credit. That’s six credited writers outside of the source material and that’s just “credited” – one definitely gets the feeling there were even more behind-the-scenes.

What happens when there are that many cooks in the kitchen? They almost always come up with something bland. And that’s exactly what happened with “Cowboys & Aliens,” a film that not only fails to build up steam but doesn’t seem like it’s even trying. The action scenes are either unmemorable or downright bad (the first alien attack is embarrassing in its shoddy construction) and the film features not one honestly quotable or entertaining line of dialogue. I kept waiting for something, anything to surprise me – an unexpected character development, a fun action scene, a loving homage to either Westerns or sci-fi. None of it is there. It’s just boring.

Cowboys and Aliens
Cowboys and Aliens
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

To be fair, it’s not the fault of Craig or Ford, the best things about the movie by far. For the first time in years, it seems like Harrison is actually having a good time with a part, snarling and sneering his way through the role (but even he is sold out by the inconsistency of a screenplay that tries to add an emotional hook to him in the final act). Craig is typically strong – the man has a ton of screen charisma – and any movie that features Sam Rockwell in a supporting role is a bit better for it. As for the gorgeous Olivia Wilde, she’s stunning to look at but ineffective as a lead.

Almost all of “Cowboys & Aliens” is ineffective. It’s almost as if the gaggle of writers involved and the producers behind them thought that this thing would be automatically entertaining. “It’s got cowboys, aliens, James Bond, and Indiana Jones? How could it go wrong?” See for yourself.

“Cowboys & Aliens” stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, and Paul Dano. It was written by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and directed by Jon Favreau. It is rated PG-13 and will be released on July 29th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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