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The Good, the Bad and the Extraterrestrial

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Zade Rosenthal/Universal Studios

The prospect of a mashup between western and sci-fi seems inspired, though not terribly original after “Firefly” and “Serenity.” So it’s somewhat mind-boggling that Hollywood has optioned the 2006 graphic novel “Cowboys & Aliens” solely for its catchy title. Indeed, the adaptation evidently bares no resemblance whatsoever to the source material. The movie leaves you wondering why the filmmakers even bothered to attempt both genres, since director Jon Favreau has exhibited utter disinterest in tropes of the western throughout the early expositions.

We have Craig, Daniel Craig, the amnesiac lone outlaw riding into town and immediately causing much commotion. Turns out that he has stolen from none other than space cowboy Han Solo — er, Harrison Ford — himself. But before long, the two must partner — along with the local American Indian tribe (after a fireside kumbaya session) and bandits whom Mr. Craig’s character once cheated out of shares of plunder — in order to face off against the fearsome alien species that has abducted half of their town’s population.

It’s sickening to see contemporary filmmakers not named Clint Eastwood botching the western genre. Then again, there were critics who honestly believed “Brokeback Mountain” was a western when it screamed Douglas Sirk. “Cowboys & Aliens” gets off to a terribly rocky start, as Mr. Favreau doesn’t seem to know what to make of the western. There isn’t the tension that one could cut with a knife, nor the kind of diva-ish melodrama courtesy of Joan Crawford in “Johnny Guitar.” It’s amusing to see Messrs. Craig and Ford playing against type, but 10 minutes of their charade are enough to make you wish Mr. Favreau had cast Viggo Mortensen and Sam Elliott instead.

There are fleeting moments of ingenuity, when the “cowboys” are fending off the technologically advanced aliens with good old-fashioned ropes, guns and dynamite. But those are few and far between, as Mr. Craig is conveniently armed with a weapon from the aliens’ arsenal. The post-racial utopian vision is nice, but you’d hope it wouldn’t take an alien invasion before we finally come to it.


Opens on July 29 in the United States and on Aug. 17 in Britain.

Directed by Jon Favreau; written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a screen story by Mr. Fergus, Mr. Ostby and Steve Oedekerk and the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental and Jim May; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production design by Scott Chambliss; costumes by Mary Zophres; produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Mr. Kurtzman, Mr. Orci and Mr. Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures (United States) and Paramount Pictures (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Adam Beach (Nat Colorado), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggart) and Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart).


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