Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Cowboys & Aliens

Title: Cowboys & Aliens

Who Would Win In A Scowling Contest: Daniel Craig Or Harrison Ford? Ford has the weathered countenance conferred by age and mileage, but Craig possesses one of those naturally craggy faces, and probably has since he was 13. Craig.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half naked Olivia Wildes out of five.

Is She...Is She *Really* Naked? It's rated PG-13, you creep. All you get is shoulders up/buttocks down.

Brief Plot Synopsis James Bond - as a Sergio Leone style Man With No Name - and Indiana Jones team up to fight cave trolls from Lord of the Rings who've come to Earth in the Black Fortress from Krull.

So You're Saying It's Derivative? "All art is theft," as Picasso - or was it Ozzy Osborne? - once said. The real issue is whether anything new is added to the mix.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up on the outskirts of Absolution, AZ with an odd bracelet on his wrist and no memory of how he or it got there. After demonstrating his bad-assitiude on some wannabe bounty hunters, he wanders into town, runs afoul of the local bully (Paul Dano), who happens to be the son of the man keeping Absolution alive, rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Inexplicably, alien spacecraft appear and start snatching townsfolk, activating Lonergan's wrist gun and awakening memories of his own abduction. Lonergan and Dolarhyde - and the mysterious Ella (Wilde) - join forces to track the aliens to their lair and free the captured humans.

"Critical" Analysis: Do you like Westerns? I ask because if you're going to enjoy Cowboys & Aliens it will help immensely if you have some affection for the tropes and traditions of the genre.

Director Jon Favreau is true to his title. What you've got is a largely by-the-numbers Western, with extraterrestrial invaders serving as the wild card. Everything is here: the Man With a Past, the Mysterious Woman, the Honorable Sheriff, the Evil Cattle Baron, hell, even the aliens are accomplished ropers. And it's all framed by more swinging saloon doors and tipped Stetsons then you can point a six-shooter at, I plum reckon.

The question, therefore, is not whether Cowboys & Alien is derivative (as my fictional inquisitor above was wondering), but whether the alien angle sufficiently contrasts against the more familiar elements to bring something interesting to the proceedings. The answer is...almost.

First, the good: at 69 years of age, Ford has finally started his transition from action hero (anyone remember Firewall?) to crotchety supporting character...who still occasionally kicks ass. Hey, it's a start. Craig certainly looks the part of [Temporary] Man With No Name, though perhaps a bit more ripped than his real life antecedents (I had no idea P90X was around in the 1870s). And there's some fine supporting work from the likes of Clancy Brown (who doesn't love the Kurgan?), Sam Rockwell as the local doctor/saloonkeeper, and Adam Beach, as Dolarhyde's adopted Injun Native American son, who...comes in handy later in the film.

As far as Wilde goes, she's finally found a role where looking like an alien is advantageous.

What makes C&A work to the extent it does is how earnestly sincere the movie is. Favreau could have had everyone play it tongue-in-cheek or given the story a more self-awarene vibe, but that would have sunk the whole thing. The stakes in the movie are actually quite serious: destroy the aliens, or more will come and destroy mankind.

But for all that, Cowboys & Aliens falls short of a solid recommendation. The inner high fives you give yourself as you see all the old familiar themes fades about 30 minutes in, and there are too many head-scratching moments throughout (the Apache weren't aware of this pseudo-camouflaged alien spacecraft in the middle of their territory? The aliens are capable of interstellar travel but haven't invented radio?) to completely absorb us in the scenario. The movie wants to be a new twist on an old genre, but ends up being somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. It's something to watch before the next James Bond comes out.

Cowboys & Aliens is in theaters today. See it and ask yourself what favors Paul Dano and Sam Rockwell must owe Steven Spielberg.

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