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Movie Review: 'Cowboys & Aliens'

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“Cowboys & Aliens”
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine
Rated: PG-13

Jon Favreau has been acting in films and TV for more than 20 years, and he's a decent tradesman as an actor. His most memorable roles (to me) are the rather surly clown on a classic episode of “Seinfeld” and the character Mike in “Swingers,” a film he also wrote.

Favreau started directing in 1998 with “Bad Cop, Bad Cop,” a made-for-TV crime/comedy. Since then he's delivered a few great movies as a director - both of the “Iron Man” films and the very amusing holiday comedy “Elf.”

His latest effort, “Cowboys & Aliens,” won't push him beyond the success (critically and financially) that he achieved with the “Iron Man” franchise, but it's a thoroughly unique (if at times not completely satisfying) movie that combines the thrill of matinee Westerns and modern-day alien invasion stories. Think “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” meets “War of the Worlds” or “Alien.”

It all begins with a great deal of confusion. That's fine. We, the audience, feel much the same as the main character feels.

Daniel Craig, as Jake Lonergan, wakes up wounded and confused with a strange-looking “bracelet” on his wrist. If the story was set in any time post 1950s, the bracelet wouldn't seem so weird. But it's 1873, so flashing lights, high-gloss metal and high-tech gadgets seem a bit out of place.

Lonergan doesn't know what's happened or where he is, but he knows he's in trouble.

First he's surrounded and attacked by a gang of ne'er-do-wells. He takes care of them readily and these scenes are the first hint - outside of the weird bracelet - that Lonergan may not be just a regular cowboy drifter.

After his encounter with the outlaws - who obviously covet something he has - Lonergan meets face to face with an even more formidable foe.

Harrison Ford - in full Harrison Ford mode - is cattle baron Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde. The colonel holds a tight grip on his empire and doesn't think kindly of Jake and the strange trouble that seems to surround him.

To make matters worse - and weirder still in 1873 - UFOs begin showing up and interfering with the goings-on of the old west.

Director Favreau isn't afraid of playing with clichés and does so at every turn here. Along with the lone outsider - actor Craig has obviously watched a few Clint Eastwood westerns - and the feudal overlord - no one does Harrison Ford better than Harrison Ford, we are treated to many other well-known characters/stereotypes.  

The town is called Absolution, and its inhabitants are a bartender named Doc, Sheriff John Taggart, saloon girl Ella (ala Miss Kitty from “Gunsmoke”) and an odd assortment of folks you would expect to live here.

Absolution seems content in whiling away its weirdness on a day-by-day basis but - to quote “Alice in Wonderland” - things get curiouser and curiouser when the out-of-place stranger, followed by a vigilante group,  Dolarhyde and his bunch, a mysterious and beautiful woman, and an assortment of drunks, rowdies and yahoos show up to make camp.

I was intrigued by the first half of “Cowboys & Aliens,” all the while wondering when the aliens would show up. When they first started appearing it was cool, but when they totally invaded the screen, it all got a bit lame.

I doubt if I'll ever see the movie again but will give kudos to director Favreau, the bevy of writers who worked on the script and the actors who all seemed to be having a great time. Steven Spielberg lent his name (and obviously some money) to the project as executive producer, and even though I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Spielberg fanatic, my guess is “Cowboys & Aliens” would have been a much better film if he had directed it.

It's a good drive-in film or something to rent on DVD on one of those nights when you don't know what you want to watch - as long as you aren't expecting too much.[[In-content Ad]]

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