Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

(In theaters, July 2011) There’s no real reason to dislike the western/Science Fiction hybrid Cowboys & Aliens, but no real reason to love it either.  It plays surprisingly straight, what with Daniel Craig and Harrison out-gruffing each other on the way to rid the Earth of an alien menace.  The SF elements are weak (Mining gold?  Really?  Did they miss all the asteroids on their way here?), the action sequence lack a certain oomph and the film seems happy just delivering the goods in more or less the same way the audience expects.  Given that even competence is sometimes missing from Hollywood blockbuster, the acknowledgement that Cowboys & Aliens does deliver on its promises should be seen as a compliment.  (If nothing else, you do get both Cowboys and Aliens.  Happy?)  The problem is that there’s little more to director Jon Favreau’s film.  After a thorny first act, everything reverts to unthreatening adventure with a perfunctory finale and the self-simplification of the script is particularly harmful to its SF elements: There’s little rhyme or reason to the aliens’ capabilities except for dramatic effect, and at the point it becomes harder for the viewer to actually form expectations or build any kind of suspense if narrative rabbits are going to be taken out of various orifices.  Interestingly enough, some of the better works comes from supporting actors: Sam Rockwell is once again unrecognizable in an atypical role far from his better-known characters; Adam Beach is earnest and sympathetic; whereas Olivia Wilde manages to carry an element of ethereal difference to her character beyond simply looking pretty.  Oh, Cowboys & Aliens plays well and satisfies base expectations.  There’s just a nagging feeling that the film could have been just a little bit more…

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