Plot: Set in the Old West, an advanced alien race attacks a small town and kidnaps some of the locals. A small group heads out to track down the aliens where their only hope of stopping them is an outlaw (Daniel Craig) with no memory, and a powerful weapon attached to his wrist that he may have gotten from the aliens themselves.
What happens when you take a run of the mill cliché western and combine it with a run of the mill cliché alien invasion movie? You get a run of the mill cliché action movie. For a film called Cowboys & Aliens, this was an excruciating yawn fest. There is no pop to this movie. Everyone looks half asleep, especially our protagonist, Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig.
I get Craig has really intense eyes and looks really cool, but that’s all he does. He just looks intense throughout the whole movie. There’s nothing interesting about this character except for the mystery surrounding him because he lost his memory. And even that gets tiresome and embarrassingly predictable. And in every scene, director Jon Favreau has to remind us, ‘hey, this guy is a bad ass.’ He always has to punch someone, or take out a group of guys, but there’s nothing clever or interesting about it. It’s stuff we’ve seen a hundred times, done way better. And the character barely talks. Craig flashes his big eyes, and we are just supposed to go, ‘Oh man, Daniel Craig. What a bad ass.’ Honestly, this movie could have been significantly better if another actor played the role, like a Leonardo DiCaprio or Jeremy Renner. I put a lot of the blame on this movie to Craig. There was just nothing there.
As far as the other performances are concerned, Harrison Ford is on auto-pilot as the grisly old war hero Woodrow Dolarhyde. There’s one scene where he’s talking to this kid (Noah Ringer) whose grandfather was taken by the aliens. It’s this emotional story about his dad, but I barely remember it because Ford put no effort into this speech whatsoever. And that’s generally the trend with this film. It’s just going through the motions. Now as the film went on, Ford got more into it, and I started to like and sympathize with his character. And there’s even decent character development between him and Lonergan, but by that point, the movie had lost me.
Two performances I did like though were Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano. Rockwell is good in everything. He always elevates the material. I found myself rooting for his character the most as a guy that always backs down from a fight, but you like him so much, you desperately want to see him become a man by the end. Dano has a small part as Dolarhyde’s privileged and jackass son, Percy. Dano brought a lot of life and levity to a film that desperately needed more of it.
I also liked Olivia Wilde, but they make it so obvious from the first second you meet her that there’s going to be a huge plot twist with her character. And when you find out what it is, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and energy if she just came out and said what her deal was.
And that’s really where the problem comes in. The pacing is just awful. Slow is not the right word. We need a whole new word slower than slow to describe this. They have to force and shoehorn in so many conflicts that have nothing to do with the main story to draw this out. There’s a useless scene and a run in with Indians, and an even more pointless stand off with Lonergan’s old gang that I could care less about. This movie really could have been 80 minutes long. The fact that it goes on for almost two hours is really unnecessary.
It makes me appreciate a movie like Independence Day that much more. I’m not going to sit here and say Independence Day is The Godfather, but that movie is nearly two and a half hours long, yet I was never bored. Why did I not get bored? It had a lot of charismatic and funny characters with groundbreaking action we had never seen before. It was a lot of fun. This is anything but. They go way too serious with it, and I’m sorry, but the movie is called Cowboys & Aliens…come on!
And speaking of the action, it’s okay. It’s just average action. They try and give you jump moments, but I never jumped once. The action is directed fine, but it’s nothing special. What I didn’t like was how the Jake Lonergan flashbacks and alien POV shots were filmed. They looked really silly and kind of shaky cam Blair Witch Project-esque, but just green. Those did not work for me at all.
Watching this movie makes me think of other sub-par blockbusters this summer like Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. While Cowboys & Aliens never gets to the low points of those films, it’s ultimately a worse movie. Why is that? As much as I don’t like Pirates and Transformers, I can at least point out memorable ‘holy crap’ moments like the mermaid scene and the building coming down in Chicago, but I can’t think of one ‘that was awesome’ moment from Cowboys & Aliens. There isn’t one interesting or cool thing I can recommend about this movie. There’s some decent acting, but I was bored out of my mind.
Bottom-line: When you keep checking your phone every ten minutes to see when the movie is going to end, I think that means it’s a bad movie.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10 (Bad)