“Pockets on Shrek, Rockets on deck
Tell me what’s next, alien sex
I’ma disrobe you, than I’mma probe you
See I abducted you, so I tell ya what to do
I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do”
-Those Kanye West “rhymes” from ET
Despite the geektastic union of James Bond and Indiana Jones sharing the same 40 feet of screen for the very first time, Cowboys & Aliens remains, after a distractedly puzzling 2 hours, a study of ‘Oh, what could/should have been’. You leave as the credits roll not necessarily dissatisfied, but with the niggling feeling that, considering the pedigree of those involved in front of and behind the camera, this movie should be a lot better than it is.
In terms of Steven Spielberg-produced alien invasion flicks, C&A is leagues better than June’s 80′s nostalgia theme restaurant Super 8. It appears that 1880s evil aliens have a lot more going for it than 1980s weepy bitch aliens.
However, if the thought of seeing Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford together is just too enticing, then by all means go. Just make sure your expectations are roped nicely in check, for though the names Spielberg, producer Ron Howard, Lost’s Damon Lindelof contributing to the screenplay, and Iron Man director Jon Favreau may lead you to expect genre transcendence, you may just have to be satisfied by the very averageness of the production.
Time for some SPOILER TALK! Below are SPOILERS for Cowboys & Aliens. Free free to add your thoughts in the Comments section.
The movie opens the same way the trailer does: with Daniel Craig awakening in the middle of the desert. He seems to have been startled out of a nightmare, one in which he starred in a boring alien invasion movie with Nicole Kidman. He has no idea what his name is or where he’s been. At least he’s got his clothes on and can walk straight.
He notices a huge metallic contraption around his wrist. It makes whirring sounds, has flashy lights, and beeps on occasion, so it has to be some newfangled thing from the future. If it vibrated he could give it to his girlfriend.
Before he can examine his new bling, he’s surrounded by a small group of men who want to take him in since he looks like he’s just escaped confinement and may be worthy of a reward. Maybe they just feel like killing him. Fortunately, the unnamed Mr. Wiesz knows how to fight and easily disarms the men, providing himself with a gun, some pants, nice new hat, leather chaps, and a dog that will not die because this movie is PG-13.
The Man makes his way to the nearest town. Maybe he can find some answers or at least get himself a drink.
He goes to the bar and recognizes no one, but there’s a comely young woman (Tron: Legacy hottie Olivia Wilde) named Ella who recognizes him, or at least that huge metal thing on his wrist.
This fledgling Western town has problems, as all Western movie towns do. One of them is a brash young kid named Percy Dolarhyde (the criminally underused Paul Dano). Percy’s father pretty much controls most of the businesses in town, so Percy perniciously perceives that he doesn’t have to pay for his liquor and can do whatever he wants because his daddy will have his back. Maybe Percy’s just mad because he’s named Percy. This afternoon Percy feels like shooting his gun haphazardly over town and in general being a prick to the locals.
He knocks the specs off the local barkeep Doc (the only-slightly underused Sam Rockwell) because it’s the proper dick thing to do. And what is Doc going to do about it? Nothing, because Percy will just run to his daddy.
While Percy is randomly shooting off his gun he accidentally clips a deputy, which even with his considerable leeway, is a very big no-no. But who’s going to enforce it when even the Sherriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) is wary of pissing off Percy’s dad? Still, shooting a deputy is crossing the line and Sherriff intends to take Percy in.
This doesn’t go over with as-of-yet Unnamed Cowboy. He doesn’t know or care who Percy’s father is, or maybe he does but he just doesn’t remember. What he does know is that this aggression will not stand. So he talks some shit to Percy, and when Percy steps up, Craig knees him in the balls. Because even in the Old Western times, seeing someone getting kicked in the nuts is funny to watch.
Sporting a new falsetto, Percy wheezes something about his father hearing of this. By then Craig has left the street and gone back to the bar, where a bunch of people are in the mood to buy him drinks because he stood up to Percy.
The girl from Tron keeps looking at his wrist.
Meanwhile, back at the Sheriff’s office, one of the non-bullet-riddled deputies sees a Wanted poster. Sure enough, it has Daniel Craig’s picture on it. His name is Jake Lonergan, and he’s wanted for murder, theft, and being a part of The Golden Compass. Despite what the man did to Percy, Jake is wanted for murder and the Sheriff will be forced to take him in.
It looks like Percy won’t be alone in jail.
One of Percy’s watchers, and Indian (feathers not dots) named Nat Colorado (Adam Beach) reports back to Percy’s father, a grumpy-looking man named Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, trying to make you forget the last movie he did involving aliens) about Percy going to jail.
Dolarhyde will not have it.
Nat also says that a man who looks like Jake Lonergan is also in town.
Dolarhyde seems to know who Jake Lonergan is and what he’s capable of, and it makes him even grumpier so he heads off with his shotgun at the ready, his mission twofold.
Jake and Percy are sharing the same stagecoach on their way to be tried for their respective crimes. Jake still has his sparkly bracelet and Percy still has his swollen testicles. Fortunately for Percy his dad rides up to try to save his spoiled ass again. And to take Lonergan custody because Dolarhyde is convinced that Lonergan stole a large amount of gold right out from under him. Dolarhyde and Sheriff Taggart are about to get into it when…
Saucer-like objects appear from the sky and begin shooting the townsfolk with beams of light called “lasers.” The cowboys’ primitive guns don’t do anything but piss off the lethal “flying machines,” as the uneducated hicks call them. It appears that the aliens’ mission is twofold as well. They’re not just here to kill, they’re here to abduct, as tentacles appear from the ships and take the various unimportant cast members into their awaiting maws.
All seems lost until Jake activates his arm candy. It enables him to shoot down a couple of ships, which eventually drives off the other ones as they are filled to the brim with human captives. At least one weapon works, though Jake’ll be darned if he knows exactly how it happened. Everyone looks at the gleam on Jake’s wrist, grateful to that novel piece of metal that sent those flying machines away. Ella looks even more enthralled. Why so curious?
Though most of the major cast survived the initial onslaught, a lot of family members were taken by the flying machines for reasons yet unknown. Little did they know that they would be the forebears for dozens of tabloid headlines in the distant future that read something like “An alien impregnated me” or something of that ilk that only seem to affect the most uneducated of country bumpkins.
Ella knows that Jake knows something about the “Demons” that took the townsfolk. Jake can’t seem to remember everything but he is getting flashes of what took place and why he has the weapon attached to his wrist, along with a nasty gash in the side of his stomach that looks almost surgical in its precision.
Dolarhyde decides to go after the Demons because they took Percy.
Doc decides to go along because they took his wife. Trouble is, he doesn’t know how to fire a gun. Gee, sure hope someone shows him how so he can come through when another cast member really, really needs him.
A little urchin named Emmet (The Last Airbender’s Noah Ringer) tags along because his grandfather is the Sheriff. I will admit to wanting to see an alien impale this kid every time he appeared onscreen simply because Last Airbender was one of the worst films of the new century and some kind of retribution is needed since we can’t take back the 90 minutes (though it seems like 3 hours) of that Razzie-winning epic fail. I know it’s not the actor’s fault and he has to live with being in Airbender for the rest of his life, but I couldn’t help it. Yeah, I could have but I didn’t want to. But since this is a PG-13 movie, a kid has about as much a chance of dying as the fucking dog.
Along go some other people that will more than likely die.
But what will Jake learn about his past, and will it be enough to save them from the alien menace?
Whose eyes are actually bluer? Olivia Wilde’s or Daniel Craig’s?
Will Dolarhyde save his son, or maybe just realize Percy’s kind of a jerk and just leave him to die?
Will Jake actually crack a smile, or does Jake don’t joke like Machete don’t text?
And what of Ella’s obsession with Jake’s weapon, and of her mysterious connection to the space invaders?
All these questions will be answered if you see the movie.
What works with Cowboys & Aliens:
1) It’s the second part of this movie’s title that makes C&A marginally worth seeing. There’s nothing about the alien design that’s revolutionary, though whenever they appear onscreen they’re genuinely scary, as opposed to the plastic doll in Super 8.
2) A shot down a tunnel beautifully rendered by DP Matthew Libatique. You know exactly what’s coming, but it’s such a well-done, almost artful shot that you enjoy knowing what you’re going to see. If only the rest of the movie made you feel that…involved.
3) Daniel Craig: He makes fine taciturn lead as he’s not given much to say but holds the screen simply by being the most badass being in the movie, human and otherwise. Whine about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all you want and bitch about Rooney Mara, but at least you know the male lead is handled just fine.
What doesn’t work:
1) A laborious setup before the first ships appear makes first 20 minutes of C&A seem longer than it is. This early in the film is NOT when you want to be thinking “Is this going to get any better?” Thankfully it does, but you shouldn’t have to wait that long
2) The complete waste of fine character actors Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano. I’m guessing that since Rockwell was in Favreau’s Iron Man sequel, they’re friends and do each other favors. Rockwell did this for Favreau as a quid pro quo since there’s not much to the part. But what happened to Paul Dano? From a decent part in the crappy Little Miss Sunshine to getting bashed in the head by Daniel Day-Lewis in There will Be Blood…to being reduced to what amounts to a cameo. So sad.
Overall. If this is a recommendation, it’s mild one at best. Still, Cowboys & Aliens may be what you need to level off of that Comic-Con high, and having Dan Craig pummel your testicles is a better option than watching the Smurfs this weekend. But who would have thought a movie starring Steve Carell would have been more entertaining than an Alien Western with Han Solo and Mikhe Blomquist? Not me, but then I would have been wrong.