Thursday, 1 September 2011

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011) - 3 STARS

'First Contact, Last Stand'


Another year, another summer of blockbuster ends with some rather mixed results. We've had quality hits (Harry Potter, Rise of the Apes, Inbetweeners) and a couple of disappointments (Transformers), but now Jon Faverau's COWBOYS AND ALIENS finishes the season in low-key fashion. Combining with renowned executive producer Steven Spielberg, and working with a team of talented actors including Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, Faverau takes on a bizarre yet intriguing concept from the comic-book novel in which as the title suggests, this is a film that will involve cowboys and aliens locking horns. However like some films this summer, there are typical cliches to the story and characters which become too predicable and ultimately leads to a film which had potential to be a huge hit but ends up feeling a little ridiculous.


Set in the ole West, tough outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) finds himself in the middle of the desert wearing a metal device around his wrist and struggles to recollect who he is. He wanders into a local town where he is confronted by the law enforcers including gruff General Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) about his past crimes including robbery and murder. But just when things are about to get nasty in that department, the town gets a nasty shock when a group of flying space ships strike leading to mass chaos. Jake manages to destroy one of them with the metal device leading to major questions from the town's authorities but he insists he doesn't remember how he came by it. Mysterious beauty Ella (Olivia Wilde) also tries to question him but he becomes more focused on trying to find the base where the aliens are hiding, with several of the townspeople having been kidnapped and used as part of scientific experiments. Accompanied by Woodrow, Ella and other townsfolk including barman/doctor Sam Rockwell and preacher Clancy Brown, Lonergan seeks to confront the creatures as well as reclaim their loved ones knowing that if they fail to rid of these current creatures, then more of them will come....


For some plus points, Favreau shows his experience from an action perspective once again in this film. You get the western feel of it and see all of the classic western elements. There are people fighting in deserts, bars, jail cells and there was a lot of great violent action. It looks good if nothing else with strong visual effects and a strong concept team behind the aliens and related technology. Yes the aliens are a little predicable if quite fearsome looking for a 12-A (they'd probably give the alien from Super 8 a run for its money). The cast have their ups and downs with Craig playing the gruff loner and invoking the spirit of Eastwood with plenty of toughness and charisma (plus a solid American accent), showing that he isn't just great at playing 007. Of the support cast, the one person who did an effective job was Clancy Brown (the horrible prison guard from Shawshank Redemption) playing a nice guy this time though sadly he is only in 1/3 of the film though Adam Beach, Paul Dano and Keith Carradine do well too in their brief roles.


Criticism of Cowboys and Aliens all comes from a story with lackluster characters equipped with cliché motivations (the boy and the dog for example). The weight of the film feels light with no mystery or any particular southwestern atmosphere. An Indiana Jones type mystique is absent and the script has the characters just bounce around between action sequences and lacks a positive narrative flow. Some members die, some members join, and then another battle scene will start. Yet blame doesn't quite belong on Favreau's shoulders or that of some of the stars like Craig or 'some' of the cast; rather, the countless studios and producers who put their faith (and money) in a concept rather than a story. Of the cast it is Harrison Ford who disappoints the most though clearly the man needs to make a great film again. He just gets on screen and acts grumpy and impatient, as well as chewing scenery, but at least he lends his experience to the project. As beautiful as Wilde is, the surprise 'twist' about her character soon evolves her into a love interest for nothing but the sake of it. She spends most of her time in the background watching everything else happen. Another talented actor; Sam Rockwell has little bearing on the film other than serving an example of an otherwise peaceful man who will do whatever it takes to get his wife back. He's a waste in the role. On the thrills front, the action is limited to only three action sequences to speak of throughout the entire film, nowhere near as exhilarating as any of the other 'big' blockbusters though they are still impressive to watch.


VERDICT: It had the potential to be really entertaining but a cliched story that stretches out for two hours with a muddled cast fails to really get our attention, though there is some life in it, its nothing special. Overall It lacked enough action or plot which most other films this year got right....

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