Review: Cowboys vs Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens, based on a graphic novel, has the sort of title that tells you right away what you're letting yourself in for.

Stop, or I'll shoot you with this fancy glowing do-hickey thing-a-ma-jig
Cowboys, yeah – six-guns, horses, punch-ups, whiskey, saloons and schoolmarms.

Aliens, uh-huh – creepy, bug-eyed, slimy, grey, hostile, with superior tech and death rays. 

The aliens have landed

 Put the two together and you have a mash-up of genres that shouldn't miss where sheer popcorn-shoveling entertainment is concerned, right? Well, almost right.

After all, "concept" is one thing, "execution" is another – and here, a bit more pep combined with a steadier hand in bringing this from script to screen would have taken the movie far. 

The lead characters are so freakin' sour most of the time, they leach all the joy and sense of wonder out of the story, and diminish the sheer exuberance of riding across wide open spaces into battle against strange and sinister forces. 

They also switch from selfish or hateful to heroic and selfless on a whim, making it apparent that not everything went well in the writing department.

Dudes, this kind of genre-bender shouldn't take itself seriously – because no one who's watching it ever will. So why not just let cast and crew cut loose and have fun?

I counted at least six names in the "screenplay" and "story" credits, which is a pretty big number for a movie that's so light in the dialogue and making-sense departments.

So one can only presume that the abundance of fingers on keyboards contributed to the irrational shifts of character, the storytelling shortcuts, the abundance of clich├ęs and those all-too-convenient plot devices where things occur or are placed just when and where the characters need them to be.

That's the not-so-good stuff. On the positive side, this is a summer flick after all – and if all you're after is action and special effects, it won't disappoint.

There's some mystery thrown in as well. Our hero is wanted outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig), though he doesn't know he's Jake Lonergan when we first meet him. He wakes up with no memory of who he is or how he wound up in the middle of the desert, sporting a fancy metal bracelet on his arm.

Forgetful he may be, but Jake soon makes short work of a gang of scalphunters and then winds up in a small town that happens to be in the grip of a powerful, dour cattle baron named Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). He's probably like that because he has a wastrel and drunkard for a son, who looks just like that fake preacher boy from There Will Be Blood.

The town is also the next target for some nasty aliens who swing by and abduct half the populace, no doubt the same aliens behind Jake's brain fuzz and fancy jewellery. And so, Jake and Dolarhyde and a motley crew of townsfolk (including a mysterious gal played by TRON: Legacy hottie Olivia Wilde) hit the trail on a desperate rescue mission.

Gorgeous Olivia plays a  mysterious cowgirl
Yes, right after their town is trashed by deathray-spewing flying machines, these people – who have never seen a flying machine, let alone beams that cause great carnage and, um, instant death – immediately set out in pursuit of the unknown.

Aliens should kick cowboy butt...really.
You have to hand it to these Wild West types, they're so stalwart that the aliens' vessels, weapons and totally bug-ugly appearance don't faze them in the least. 

Hell, haven't we seen how folks in alien-invasion flicks set in contemporary times degenerate into blubbering, pants-wetting wrecks at the sight of far less frightening ETs? (For example, the water-averse morons from Signs.)

We can only conclude from the calm demeanour of Cowboys & Aliens' human protagonists of yesteryear that they just don't make 'em like they used to.

And that sad statement on the times could well apply to B-movies of this variety too, when the situations were no less crazy but everyone knew how to have fun.