Review: COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review: COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011)

RATING: 2.5/5

Genre mishmash is nothing new, except you can say that it's rare to see them in a big-budget tentpole release. Back then, there was an attempt to mix old-fashioned western genre with sci-fi trappings and the result was the ill-fated WILD WILD WEST (1999). You know, the one which starred Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Salma Hayek and Kenneth Branagh? Not only the movie was a flop at the box-office, it also highly regarded as one of the worst movies a bankable star like Will Smith had ever made. Now fast forward 12 years later, here's another big-budget attempt to combine western genre and sci-fi element. This time, we have COWBOYS & ALIENS, an interesting genre mash-up that combined classic western and alien invasion movie. On paper, it certainly sounds very cool. I mean, with such crackerjack premise, I'm sure a lot of people are expecting this movie to be one hell of an entertaining summer ride. Make no mistake, the movie has plenty of its moments but it's still rather a waste of opportunity that it's hardly reach to its full potential.

However, the first hour or so starts off intriguing enough: A nameless cowboy (Daniel Craig) finds himself waking up in the middle of a scorching desert with no memory of who he is or where he's from. Not only that, he realizes he's badly wounded and also discovers there's a mysterious high-tech steel bracelet affixed to his left wrist. He tries to crack it open but the bracelet refuses to come off whatsoever. After a brief encounter with three cowboys trying to mess him up, he wanders himself across the desert and subsequently arriving at Absolution, which was once a prosperous mining town. He is gradually receives a good hospitality by a sympathetic priest named Meacham (Clancy Brown). Of course, it doesn't take long before he gets himself into trouble again when a no-good rancher's son Percy Dollarhyde (Paul Dano), whose highly-influential father, Woodrow (Harrison Ford), is basically owns the tiny town. During a confrontation, the nameless cowboy made Percy accidentally wounded a deputy while trying to intimidate the townspeople by coughing up some money for him.

Things get worse when the nameless cowboy is being identified as wanted bandit Jake Lonergan by Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine) and thrown in jail alongside with Percy. That very night, Sheriff Taggart is about to ship Percy and Jake off to court in Santa Fe but Woodrow arrives into town determined to free his son at all cost. But something else happens -- there are a few alien spaceships appear out of nowhere and set things ablaze. Chaos ensues as the alien spaceships are firing at them all over the place while subsequently snatching the locals, including Percy, off the air. This is where Jake's bracelet has somewhat comes to respond and he uses it to take down one of the alien spacecrafts with just a single shot.

With many of the locals went disappeared, Jake and Woodrow put their differences aside to locate and rescue their kin from the aliens. Together with Woodrow's Indian ranch helper Nat (Adam Beach), bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell), mysterious beauty Ella (Olivia Wilde) who seems to have a lot of interest for Jake, and a handful of other locals, they ride their horses across the frontier.

So far, so good. Earlier on, COWBOYS & ALIENS plays the card well with its ever-popular "mysterious drifter from nowhere comes to town" western subgenre often found in some of the best movies which starred Clint Eastwood. There is a sense of mystery and other intriguing manners as the movie takes its time to develop all of the multiple going-ons (e.g. the mysterious arrival of Daniel Craig's character, conflicts between the locals, and introduction of all the major cast involved, the sudden appearance of alien spacecrafts) as interesting as possible.

Too bad once the alien invasion element takes over most of the storyline, the rest of the movie turns surprisingly lackluster. It's kind of disappointing though, considering director Jon Favreau is no stranger for making movie with fantastical premise (read: IRON MAN). His direction is mostly pedestrian, and at most times uninspired. There are hardly any creativity in term of scope where action set-piece often plays crucial part of succeeding such genre when comes to alien invasion movie. Sure, they are plenty of explosions, running and stuff like that but they are all surprisingly repetitive. Uh, is Favreau really forgets a little thing called "imagination"? Still, there are some moments to be excited about, particularly in an intense sequence where Ella ends up being snatched away by an alien spacecraft and Jake goes all out to save her at all cost. The screenplay, in the meantime, lacks tight narration to make everything works into full circle. Despite the fact that the movie is adapted from the 2006 Platinum Studios graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, I suspect that most of the elements found in this movie version is reduced to a mere premise with no strong backbone to support it.

Still, the movie remains watchable, thanks to its credible cast. Daniel Craig is perfectly typecast as a silent and stoic Jake Lonergan who doesn't gives a damn about anything other than someone he really cares about. He's certainly commanding enough to make him an idealistic actor to play such role in a western genre. If there's anyone to replace Clint Eastwood as the next iconic western star, he's definitely the one to go for. Harrison Ford, in the meantime, is equally captivating as well. His grizzly and no-nonsense persona works well for his character, although I have to say it's not among his best performance he's ever committed here. Olivia Wilde is quite decent as Ella, while the rest of the ensemble cast (Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano and especially Clancy Brown) have their own credible moments.

On the technical level, the movie is simply top-notch. The special effects, especially where we see the alien spacecrafts appear in the daylight blends seamlessly against the stark background. Production design and art direction are ace, while Harry Gregson-Williams's rousing music score with a hint of guitar is no doubt one of the most exciting tunes ever played in this year's summer movie. Completing the look is Matthew Libatique's attractive cinematography that perfectly captured the widescreen vistas of the vast landscape.

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