The plot is complicated.
Aliens invade Absolution, a dusty dive in the New Mexico territory in 1875. Flying in machines that look like dragonflies, the aliens start kidnapping people. An outlaw done by former James Bond Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford’s cruel cattle baron teams with the town characters, a gang of outlaws and a tribe of Apaches -- all to save their kidnapped friends and loved ones and defeat the aliens.
Failure means the annihilation of the world.
Craig is predictably stoic, Ford is a super-serious, cranky old curmudgeon and they’re assisted by Tron: Legacy eye candy, Olivia Wilde as a woman who isn’t what she seems to be. Surrounding the lead actors is an excellent cast of character actors. Unfortunately Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine and the others are given little or nothing to do.
There are other problems. Why are all of the aliens in movies modeled after the alien in Alien?
By the way, the standard notification of no animals being harmed during the making of Cowboys & Aliens is at the end of the credits. There is considerable violence as it moves toward the climax, were any aliens hurt? Does anybody ever worry about the poor aliens? We live in a society that thinks life on other planets exists. Many of us even believe they’re already here watching us.
Yet when aliens are hurt, maimed and killed in a movie, no one cares.
My way of saying why do we still have to post that stupid notification at the end of the credits that no one — except movie critics with nothing else to do — reads? No one believes that animals in motion pictures generated in this country are harmed by anyone.
I confess. That is a terrible attempt at humor, but it highlights just one of a couple of flaws. The film A) does not have enough humor B) is 30 minutes too long.
As for humor, Cowboys & Aliens? What a fun title. And starring ad lib king Ford? You ought to be holding your aching sides as you exit the theater. Instead Iron Man director Jon Favreau, who is also a very funny guy, and the six screenwriters opt to play it straight.
Six screenwriters? Normally that’s the kiss of death. Here it works. That’s mainly due to three of them dominating: Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who wrote 2009‘s super excellent Star Trek and the first two Transformers movies, and David Lindelof, who penned a bunch of TV’s Lost episodes.
Writers playing it straight — by the way — does work. While not that funny, Cowboys & Aliens marries traditional western, ride hard and shoot-em-up characters with modern-day science fiction and special effects. Even if it does harm aliens, this is flat-out, Saturday afternoon matinee fun.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence, brief nudity. It opens Friday, July 29 at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.