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Cowboys & Aliens
Genre Western

Cowboys & Indians – sure, Cowboys & Kung Fu – fine, but aliens in the Wild West? Go on, pull the other pulsating tentacle. Isn’t that why Bravestarr was relocated to a planet called New Texas? If only someone had whispered in Jon Favreau’s ear, “it’s a comedy”. Instead, the Iron Man director has gone and dropped the “funny” out of “seriously funny” in this comic book adaptation, wielding a straight-to-video idea with a blockbuster budget and no one’s having it.

If you're going to set up a firing line, you can't just blast Favreau. The casting agent also needs to grab a blind fold, or just carry on wearing one. Daniel Craig is James Bond, but was selected because of his resemblance to Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven. We can give him the odd break from being a 007 as stipulated in his signed-in-blood contract, but the man is a cold, calculated killer and not nearly as charming as Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future III.

Craig's character is suffering an identity crisis and wearing an alien bracelet - but how on Earth are we meant to engage with the character if he's unable to wipe that blank dead-eyed expression off his mug? They've roped in Harrison Ford, the down-to-earth ranch guy. He's a tough adventurer, but he's as heartwarming as open heart surgery. Unfortunately, the narrative is too scatter-shot and his character is more rugged than the Marlboro man - making it difficult to connect.

Both actors are accomplished and can do action and drama, two elements of Cowboys & Aliens, but Harrison Ford had to go on air with David Letterman just to prove he could tell a funny joke. So who's left to deliver the laughs? Well, Sam Rockwell's been able to whip up the odd sardonic smirk and Paul Dano's whiny kid routine works a charm - but both actors are wasted in fairly inconsequential supporting roles as a barkeep and irritating brat.

In essence, Cowboys & Aliens is a straight-to-video release with a blockbuster budget. Jon Favreau knows comedy, as witnessed by the strong comedy presence in Iron Man 2, but this one just got away from him. The budget has allowed for a strong ensemble armed with some fairly big hitters and new talent like Olivia Wilde of Tron: Legacy. Solid production values give the film an austere and first-rate visual effects give District 9 a run for its money in the alien department.

Cowboys & Aliens does pick up a notch or two in the attack on the mother ship, but there's just not enough camaraderie and good chemistry to keep the beans hot in the pan. A sluggish and staggered middle in a nearly two hour actioner loses our attention as the cowboys meander through the wilderness bumping into extra fighters in the build-up to the climactic battle. It's like they made it up as they went along.

It's an uneasy mix of genres, one that works in some places, but fails to measure up in others. Unfortunately, a solid cast, great production values and first-rate special effects are no substitute for a stilted story, a miscast lead and off-key performances... making it seem like War of the Worlds meets Wild Wild West. Who knows, maybe they're just softening us up for a live-action adaptation of Bravestarr?

The bottom line: Misfire.


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