These days, pop culture is so mashed-up it feels weird when the vampire novel doesn't have sexy werewolves in it.
This has led to an odd condition where nothing is ridiculous anymore. You could film a buddy-cop movie about Bigfoot and Nick Nolte's character from 48 Hours solving the death of Santa Claus and nobody would raise an eyebrow. Despite this, when ads for Cowboys & Aliens started dropping, I saw people reacting like the filmmakers must have been smoking weed stuffed with a second, more potent strain of weed.
This in a world where Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is already a successful book franchise. Had the absurd mash-up industry finally gone too far? Would Cowboys & Aliens mark the moment when we set aside Frankenstein M.D., Mummy-Slayer forever?
Nope. It turns out it doesn't matter, because nobody's going to give a damn about Cowboys & Aliens two months from now anyway.
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Daniel Craig awakes in the desert with two things: amnesia, and a strange bracelet around his wrist. When he finds his way to town, he beats down the aggressive son of local magnate Harrison Ford, who rounds up his men to ride in for revenge.
Before the showdown turns violent, aliens attack, hauling off Ford's son and several other locals. Craig's bracelet suddenly activates. He shoots down one of the alien craft. Realizing Craig has the only effective weapon, Ford strikes up an uneasy alliance to bring their people back.
I was kind of looking forward to Cowboys & Aliens until I saw the trailer so many times that the phrase "cowboys and aliens" just lost all meaning. By that point, I had the sinking feeling that despite Iron Man director Jon Favreau at the helm, we were in for 100-odd minutes of people in large hats discussing the need to retrieve my/your/our people. Then in the theater, the opening credits showed eight credits for six different writers.
Yeah, I talk about having too many writers a lot. Maybe too often. Then again, maybe you should shut up. Thing is, hiring six writers kinda implies the first five screwed up. Plus, the crew includes writers from Lost, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Iron Man, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. This is like hiring Ernest Borgnine, a bedridden vampire, Donkey Kong, and Ghost Einstein to pilot the jet you're using to escape from a sentient volcano. That can only result in confusion, a lot of bellowing and a terrible crash.
Yet Cowboys & Aliens averts complete disaster. Instead, considering that slew of writers and the fact it is about cowboys and aliens, it has a bizarre lack of imagination. Craig's character is your standard-issue laconic badass gunslinger. Seriously, it's like they didn't even try. I couldn't even describe Olivia Wilde's character to you besides talking about a late discovery that a) makes no sense and b) isn't developed in the slightest.
Same deal with the stabs at emotion. There's a lot of father-son business that provokes such heights of feeling as "Well, that's nice." This thematic stuff kinda-sorta comes together at the end, but Cowboys & Aliens mostly half-answers questions nobody cared about in the first place.
Also, Favreau's sense of humor has gone as thoroughly missing as Fox Mulder's sister. Which isn't to say Cowboys & Aliens is no fun at all. Ford's a good time as an interminably pissed-off old hardass. The climax is enjoyable enough. And it turns out there is something quite satisfying about watching cowboys unload their Colts on slimy space-monsters.
But the movie is filled with undercooked bits and hints of different stories, as if the writers were always stealing each other's sandwiches from the fridge despite being clearly marked, leading to a string of retaliations where they deleted all the cool parts the others had written into the script. Cowboys & Aliens is a mildly entertaining time, but it's completely disposable.