Cosmic Slop 

Cowboys and Aliens is a dull echo of two genres.

Daniel Craig rustles up space varmints in Cowboys and Aliens.

Daniel Craig rustles up space varmints in Cowboys and Aliens.

Cowboys and Aliens sounds like the name of a drive-in movie — one of those Roger Corman-produced cheapies like Sharktopus or Live by the Fist or Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds.

With a title as stupid as Cowboys and Aliens, I held out some hope that this week's box-office champ might, in spite of its big stars and big budget, have some fun with its high concept. But this dead film shows no trace of the guileless silliness and recklessness that sometimes make direct-to-DVD hackwork much more fun than well-crafted Hollywood product.

That Cowboys and Aliens is both well crafted and more successful than most summer blockbusters at whatever it thinks it's supposed to be doing in the name of "entertainment" should be read as the faintest of faint praise. It is an impersonal, incomplete allusion to not one but two genres, and it's a dull echo and a dim reflection of both of them.

The film pretends to be a Western first. Daniel Craig — with a chiseled, severely angled bod reminiscent of the everymen who stride through Lynd Ward woodcuts — plays an outlaw mysteriously saddled with a futuristic "arm gun." After a skirmish with some bounty hunters, Craig rides into the town of Absolution, where he is watched and probed by an otherworldly beauty in a gingham dress (Olivia Wilde). He also stirs up some trouble with a cattle baron's weaselly son (Paul Dano), whom he shortly turns into his personal punching bag. In his brief role, Dano's brutal overacting nearly makes up for the remarkable inexpressiveness of everyone else in the cast.

Except, that is, for the cattle baron played by crotchety old Harrison Ford. Ford tries to be a real Little Bill-type bad guy at first, but whenever he tries to sound malicious, he merely sounds like he needs to hawk up some phlegm. His mentorship of a frightened youngster clears up his ambiguous character too quickly. I kept imagining what Henry Fonda's black-clad frightener from Once Upon a Time in the West would have done in Ford's place.

Familiar and comforting Western tropes like the midnight ride, the saloon showdown, and the sheriff facing impossible odds disappear once the aliens — who could be the inbred intergalactic cousins of Super 8's homesick extraterrestrial — show up in their spaceships and start space-lassoing the townsfolk. These abductions set in motion a posse hunt/rescue mission that eats up the last hour of the film. Much is wasted during this chase, including Sam Rockwell, an upside-down riverboat location, and Wilde's and Craig's matching set of eerie blue eyes.

Like 2009's humans-and-aliens-living-together drama District 9, Cowboys and Aliens is most effective when it is most violent. There's no way the cowboys can defeat these super-fast, super-tough space invaders, and for a few scenes, director Jon Favreau's carefully edited PG-13 violence creates an atmosphere of genuine dread.

Shoot, fer a picture without one doggone idear in its purty li'l head, I might could reckon this here Cowboys and Aliens ain't half bad. But I ain't no liar, pardner.

Cowboys and Aliens
Now playing
Multiple locations

Cowboys & Aliens
Rated PG-13 · 118 min. · 2011
Official Site:
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Producer: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano and Noah Ringer


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Cowboys & Aliens


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

    • Free Fire

      Slapstick shoot-em-up rises to the level of art film
    • Ghost In The Shell

      The groundbreaking anime gets lost in the live action translation
    • Beauty and the Beast

      Emma Watson romances a man-buffalo in Disney’s sumptuous live action remake


Politics Beat Blog

Low Early Voting Totals for District 95

News Blog

State Officials Search for North Memphis Bear

News Blog

4/20 at Overton Park, Not Very Lit

Beyond the Arc

Game 3: Grizzlies 105, Spurs 94: Grindhouse Forever

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

T2 Trainspotting

News Blog

Update: Nary a Silo Will Tarnish Famous Vista

Hungry Memphis

How to Gumbo

News Blog

Downtown Pocket Park to Open


More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

  • On Location: Memphis 2015

    This year’s festival brings filmmakers and audiences together.
    • Sep 4, 2015
  • Maggie’s Plan

    Comedy perfection from director Rebecca Miller
    • Jun 17, 2016
  • Mistress America

    Greta Gerwig is a whirlwind of energy in director Noah Bombach’s latest New York tale.
    • Sep 7, 2015
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation