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Outlaws from the final frontier on Astini News


Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

Directed by: Jon Favreau

14A: violence

Running time: 118 minutes


The main problem with the nutty adventure film, Cowboys & Aliens, is that there are aliens in it, although you could probably find some who would argue that it's the cowboys who are redundant. Either way, it's a mash-up that diminishes, rather than enhances, the genres, at least until the wild cowboys-vs.-aliens climax. At that point, there's nothing to do but sit back, drink it all in, and consider how Hollywood sure has a lot of money to spend on stuff.

It starts as an interesting western, a kind of John Ford knock-off: The Searchers meets The Thing.

Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan, a tough desperado who awakens in the desert with no boots, no horse, no gun and a strange, alien-looking bracelet attached to his wrist.

Jake can't remember how he got there or what happened, but there's something in Craig's pinched scowl that makes you think anal probes may have been involved.

In any event, he soon vanquishes three passing cowboys and rides into nearby Absolution, Ariz., a town packed to the gunwales with types: a feckless bartender (Sam Rockwell), a decent sheriff (Keith Carradine), a quiet Indian tracker (Adam Beach), the bullying son (Paul Dano) of the sadistic tyrant who runs the town, and the sadistic tyrant himself, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, looking crankier than ever).

Jake is not a man to fool around with, however - he's reminiscent of the Viggo Mortensen character in A History of Violence in his facility for mayhem - and Cowboys & Aliens is heading for an epic showdown (or at least a monumental scowl-off) between Jake and Dolarhyde when, without warning, Close Encounters of the Third Kind breaks out.

Spaceships begin strafing the town, stampeding horses and lassoing people into the air, sometimes right off their saddles: It's like Saturday night in Dodge City. The UFOs make a mockery of the puny cowboy weapons, at least until Jake's funny bracelet begins to glow and shoot death rays.

In the aftermath, a posse sets out to track down the abducted. It's a group made up of natural enemies - lawmen, thugs, one desperado, one sadistic tyrant, and beautiful Ella (Olivia Wilde), who wants Jake to rescue her kin who have also been taken by the aliens.

Ella comes in handy later when the movie needs some extra exposition - the five screenwriters have their hands full with this one - but meanwhile, it gets Olivia.

Even though it's the 1870s, the cowboys adapt quickly to the idea of flying machines piloted by humanoids, and the film takes on a classic feel as it moves across the plains, gathering iconography - an outlaw gang, a group of Indians - for the final showdown. This takes place among cliffs reminiscent of Monument Valley, Utah, where so many of John Ford's westerns were set, the difference being that he was examining the founding mythos of the American imagination and Cowboys & Aliens is examining how to make explosions look cool.

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) gamely tries to recreate an archetypal western, but you get the feeling that he can't wait to get to the monster stuff.

The creatures aren't bad, either. They have that trendy look (giant mandibles that drip slime) that we also enjoyed in Super 8, which was, like this movie, produced by Steven Spielberg. Coincidence or conspiracy?

To be fair, there's also character development: Dolarhyde turns out to be a sentimental old tyrant (Ford gives a gruffly emotional speech about how, as a boy, he slit a man's throat with a keepsake knife) and Jake has a love story in his past that's so touching, it attracts a new-age hummingbird that flits around his head.

That's some right purty filmmaking.

Now it's time to kill me some aliens.


It sounds kooky on paper, but on the screen, cowboys and aliens make beautiful, fun music together.

- Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

A ripping good ride.

- Peter Debruge, Variety

Two movies (and two genres) for the price of one, this ultimate popcorn movie of the summer is a mishmash by design, in which Bond meets Han Solo/Indiana Jones, though more effective as Western than sci-fi thriller.

- Emanuel Levy, emanuellevy. com

Director Jon Favreau's experiment in genre crossbreeding - a Western-sci-fi mash-up pumped full of inspirational all-in-this-together spirit - is a cute, crowd-pleasing idea, though more decadent than a revitalization of either genre.

- Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice

Favreau slipped from fresh and flamboyant on Iron Man to lame and listless on its sequel, and there's more of the latter on Cowboys & Aliens.

- David Germain, Associated Press

Brandishing a literal-minded title as laughable as the rest of its action, Cowboys & Aliens mashes up genres with a staunch dedication to getting everything wrong, making sure that each scene is more inane than the one that preceded it.

- Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

The story flows in fits and starts like a row of dominoes set too far apart for them to fall properly. Cowboys & Aliens is a poorly told story.

- Cole Smithey, colesmithey. com

Cowboys & Aliens is one of the silliest movies ever made, but so many otherwise serious people have attached their names to it that, as Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, attention must be paid.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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