In no way about south of the border skirmishes with the undocumented – but that may have made for a more substantial movie, Cowboys And Aliens opts for a less than confident mix ‘n match genre spree. And with no less than eight writers – who outnumber even the movie’s designated varmint posse – tending to comes off as less intentionally surreal than incidentally schizophrenic.
And which eventually seems headed in the direction of going so far off the deep end, that not taking itself seriously enough ends up a major flaw on the plot itinerary. And if you don’t take your own movie seriously, it’s more than likely that audiences won’t either.
Sam Rockwell initially grabs attention front and center as meek saloon owner Doc, half of a daffy S&M duo with bratty bully Percy Dollarhyde (Paul Dano). Whose menacing cattle baron dad Colonel Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford) seems to own the dusty New Mexico town and just about everybody in it. Meanwhile, sauntering into town is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), a potentially occult outlaw with amnesia, and impossible moves during shootouts.
And while Ford does an over the top tyrant, spaceships suddenly land and blast the cattle into oblivion, just as one of the Colonel’s hired hands relieves himself in the river. And who himself will later be accused of blowing up the cows.
Also figuring into the mild suspense are prehistoric looking generic alien abductors who seem more like they arrived from the distant past than the future; a homicidal mystery bracelet with a mind of its own; and Olivia Wilde as a suspect femme fatale from another planet gunslinger in period pinafores. And finally, some sort of extraterrestrial Gold Rush for no reason in particular.
Boldly subverting its own Wild West iconic roots. Cowboys And Aliens baffles as a kind of ‘why can’t we all just get along’ western paranormal self-parody, whatever that is. Though director John Favreau has assembled an impressive enough cast to cloak the runaway silliness in a scenario conversely intended to instill an intergalactic dread of the ‘other.’
But the drain of enlivening an uninspiring yarn eventually shows by mid-point, even with the vigorous far too frequently alternating dramatic and comedic input of these stellar stars. And with a narrative no-no, where the strongest action materializes at the start, cruising at a significantly weaker pace towards the finish line.
So are the characters more discombobulated by the space invaders or the split personality script? Only John Favreau knows for sure.
2 1/2 stars