You know those movies that have a really interesting sounding idea, a pretty good primary cast, a director and producers who should be able to knock this sucker out of the ballpark, and end up being anything but what you were hoping for?
Welcome to Cowboys and Aliens.
It’s based on a comic book…er…a graphic novel. It stars Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, both seeming to stray a little bit from their typecasts while still playing roles you can see them playing. What could either have been gripping and exciting or tongue-in-cheek and campy turned out to be neither, and no one really seemed to be into the movie, such as it was.
The story, which actually sounds interesting, and has me wondering if it would be worth it to find the graphic novel, is this: While no one realizes it, aliens have landed outside of a small town in the Arizona Territory in 1873. Craig’s character wakes up in the desert nearby with an alien device of some sort on his wrist, and a hole in his memory that prevents him from remembering who he is or where he’s from. When he gets into town, he discovers that he’s wanted for stealing a shipment of gold that belongs to Ford’s character.
But then the alien ships come in and start shooting and abducting some of the townsfolk with a kind of harpoon grappling hook. Everyone’s shocked until Craig discovers that his little wrist device is a gun that can blow an alien ship out of the sky. But I guess that’s all the back story we’re getting for now!
Predictably, Ford and Craig are forced into an uneasy alliance because Craig has the device and can’t figure out how to get it off. So a posse is formed and they ride off into the distance to hunt the aliens. In the process, we learn that Craig’s character is the head of a gang that has indeed pulled off numerous heists in the area, and that his wife or girlfriend was abducted and killed the night he pulled the gold job, and that was the same night he got the fancy wrist shooty-thing.
We also learn that Ford is not really an old hard-ass, he’s just an old softy who really wants a son who he can respect, since the one he currently has is a drunk and a troublemaker who’s frequently causing problems in town. Oh, and he was also a Captain or General or something in the Mexican-American War. Though why that’s important at all isn’t really clear.
Along the way, they recruit Craig’s gang to help, and also team up with the local Apache tribe–who also had people abducted–all so that they can conduct the final, climactic fight scene. Everyone fights, some minor characters die, Craig’s character gets to be a hero and release the abducted townsfolk and Apaches from inside the ship, then he manages to recover his memories of what happened, and the ship tries to take off but blows up, all as a result of the help of another alien who had been living among the townsfolk in a human disguise. In the end, everyone’s reunited and Craig is offered an olive branch by Ford, but he walks away…I think…Even that was done half-way.
Oh, and why were the aliens here? In 1873 Arizona Territory? For gold, of course, just like everyone else…
Okay. Full disclosure. This took me about two months to finally watch all the way through. For an action movie, it moved unbelievably slowly. And for a character study or “thoughtful” film, it didn’t do anything that made the story more gripping or the characters even vaguely interesting. I can, to a point, suspend the need for character development if the action and pacing is interesting enough, but this movie just failed on all counts.
Craig and Ford are either wasted as actors in this movie, or just didn’t care, and I can’t quite figure out why. Their characters are both pretty unlikable, but the only reason we have for that is because of how they’re acting now, and given only sketches of what has brought them to this point in their lives. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t feel like there were parts of the movie that were working really hard to tell you who they were.
I didn’t expect too much from this movie, just based on its genre, but less than that was actually delivered, which makes it even worse. And in the end, you finish watching the movie and wonder why you even spent two hours on it…Or 15-20 minutes at a time over two months…Two out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.