Action Movie Friday: Cowboys And Aliens

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Cowboys And Aliens
MPAA Rating:
Release: 2011
Genre: Action, Western, Science Fiction
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olvia Wilde
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Otsby, Steve Oedekerke, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (comic book)
Distributor: Universal
Budget: $163 Million
Box Office: $175 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44%

Gingersnaps Rating: One Cookie!

Summary:

Demons haunt the ranges of the wild west, killing cattle and taking people. Jake Lonergon was no friend to anyone in those parts, an outlaw with a lust for gold, he made his living stealing from those who made their living honestly, including Woodrow Dollarhyde, the local curmudgeon land owner. But now, Jake Lonergon can’t remember who he is or what happened to him. Except he’s got some metal cuff on his wrist and a memory of a beautiful woman looking soulfully at him. When the demons come for the local town, sometimes the devil you know, is better than the demon you don’t. Dollarhyde is willing to keep Lonergon around, as long as Lonergon helps track down the demons to get his stolen son and returns to him his stolen gold.

Review:

Cowboys & Aliens felt so close to being a break through movie. It was so close to being good it is painful to watch. The movie acts like and feels like a student project got a big budget. If someone on the team had just taken one itsy bitsy step. It could have been amazing.

The numbers more than reflect this. This movie barely made its budget back and that took both the foreign and the domestic box office combined. They combined draw of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig couldn’t overpower how amateur the story felt. There were seven writers, including the guy who wrote the companion comic book that the movie was “based” off of. (No such thing but digression.) That might have been a big problem right there. There were just too many writers in the mix to produce a cohesive vision. It didn’t matter whether or not Harrison Ford or Daniel Craig had star power or were action stars that could pull off a western movie, what mattered was the story and the story fell flat to both critics and audiences. Don’t expect to see a sequel. In fact, don’t expect to see a sci fi western for at least a decade,  if not more.

You’ve got all the elements and characters for a really good story. You’ve got the hard as steel landowner without any mercy. His spoiled son who keeps the town folk in terror. The put upon Sheriff who has to deal with both of them. The bar owner and his wife who are soft city folk trying to make it in the west. The outlaw who has left his gang for the love of a woman. The realistic preacher who puts aside sermons and what folks look like to try to see the real person underneath the labels. The alien in disguise trying to avenge her people. Super scary somewhat overpowered aliens.

And then you get down to the meat of it and they add amnesia and creepy vivisection while the victims are still alive. This is where the plot starts derailing, because the aliens taking dozens and dozens of squishy earthlings to find out our weaknesses before they leave, come back and exterminate us, makes no sense whatsoever. The amnesia is supposed to be the point of conflict here because how is Jake supposed to lead the men back to where the aliens are if he can’t remember. Well, we’re going to have a “Hollywood” style meeting with the Natives and he’ll just take some drugs and remember at least the path to the aliens if nothing else. There was no reason to take away the people’s memories, just like there was no reason to take dozens and dozens of people in the first place. Manufactured drama. To top it off, the alien out to avenge her people is reduced to such lines as “I can help you.” While Jake keeps telling her to leave him the hell alone. (Of course, he mistakes her for a prostitute at first, because every woman in a western bar is a prostitute right, even though she’s not dressed like one and she’s carrying a gun. I’m rolling my eyes here, because the wife of the owner was dressed more like a prostitute than the alien was.)

Of course, with the amnesia plot line in force, that means while some of the characters learn something, other characters learn nothing and end up doing nothing. (More on that later.) Take Woodrow Dollarhyde and his son Percy for example. Percy is taken by the aliens. Woodrow goes after him to rescue him and is confronted with the fact that he’s his own worst enemy and in fact, isn’t a very good man. While, Percy, who was a bit of a sniveling weasel, only becomes a better person because he lost all his memories and his father has a chance to start over and do better this time around. This is a waste of an entire plot line for Percy. Amnesia ex machine. (Disgusted.)

Even with the amnesia, Jake isn’t even that likeable. His motto seems to be that since he doesn’t know who he is or what he is, he’ll just shoot everyone. Granted, the old west wasn’t the greatest of places and this motto serves him well in the context of the movie he’s been placed in. It just doesn’t make him someone we like. The amnesia doesn’t give Daniel Craig much to work with for the character. Jake seems to be a tough, cold, son of a bitch, but his dialogue consists mostly of “Get the hell away from me,” and cheap one liners. The only reason why we have to like him is that through the flashbacks we see he is capable of love and being a bit soft, but with that ripped away from him, it leaves nothing but a shell of a human being. Jake Lonergon has no emotions for the audience to latch onto. He’s not angry or sad. He’s not happy. He just exists and is flat as a piece of paper.

So with both Dollarhyde and Lonergon being unlikeable, it makes it really hard to root for the main characters of the movie. The ones who are likeable, such as the Sheriff, the Preacher and Doc, are either mostly ignored, killed, or taken away by the aliens.

See, the whole plot of this movie could have been derailed if the aliens (who are supposed to be superior to humans) just didn’t take dozens and dozens of people. If they had stayed in their caverns and taken the gold, they could have left and staged their invasion without anyone being the wiser! All this people taking was just unnecessary. There were also so many better ways for the humans to find out about the aliens. This was a mining town after all and Jake Lonergon was on the run to begin with.

Maybe they were trying to make a homage to both classic alien movies and classic westerns. What it ended up being was a somewhat slow movie with clichéd alien tropes and western interactions. But hey, the kid and the dog survive. Still, I have to eat the cookie.

There were a couple of explosions. Were they unnecessary? No. Not really. So sad. A few mindless explosions could have really helped this movie. No cookie.

So, because this is a western movie, we have to reframe fights in the lens of a Western. Westerns are more known for their shootouts than their tussles. (Though there were plenty of tussles back in the West according to Hollywood.) So, were the fights entertaining? Err, no, not really, they had the potential to be but they just sort of fell flat. Oh, Daniel Craig almost got into a few brawls that could have been fun if he hadn’t kept getting ambushed from behind. The fights between the humans and the aliens either took place in the dark, or were so fast that you couldn’t tell what was going on. The aliens were overpowered and far too fast for the humans to have much of a threat index against them. So, it was more of a slaughter than a fight. There weren’t any shootouts and you spent more time watching the fight through the spyglass with the boy than being down among the action. The part where Dollarhyde saves Lonergon (these names make me wince and snicker) is worth a cheer but is still rather anti-climatic. Oh, and for aliens that were supposed to be sensitive to daylight, it didn’t seem to bother them very much in the fight. They seemed to be able to see just fine. (Okay, this is the second movie to go with daylight as a weakness that I know of, the other being Battleship. Come on people! Originality please!) Fights with potential and slaughter is just frustrating to watch and not entertaining at all. I have to eat this cookie.

The women of this movie didn’t really do anything. The actress who played Alice, the prostitute Jake was in love with, got probably the best job of the movie. She got to kiss on Daniel Craig for most of her part. She served mostly as motivation for Jake to find the aliens because in Jake’s mind she was the only one who knew who he was. Doc’s wife was also kidnapped by aliens. Thus she served as motivation for Doc to fit in more among the people he was trying to make a living off of. All the conflict between her and Doc gets glossed over because she was taken from him. And then there was the alien who was on Earth to avenge her people. You know, I don’t think she even had a name. That’s how much of a nonentity she was. According to the credits she was Ella, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned in the film. She had the most screen time, the most lines and she still was flat. Olivia Wilde’s styling reminded me of Summer Glau as River from Firefly. I kept waiting for her to do something awesome or crazy and it just never happened. They tried for romantic subtext between her and Daniel Craig’s character, the whole “you have to stop thinking” was an excuse for them to kiss and even that didn’t help at all. Then her ending, well, I don’t want to talk about it. It was just that bad. There was literally nothing in the movie as it was written for Olivia to work with for this character. It was incredibly frustrating and disappointing. I’m eating the fourth cookie.

Now, the world of Cowboys &. Aliens was well thought out. It was planned. You could tell that a lot of care went into planning the aliens. The spaceship and the technology were intricate and detailed. They were also pretty cool. Someone put a lot of attention into figuring out how aliens should and would fit into the old west. Then when it came to the story, they went, “wait, I have to have a plot?! Can’t we just have cowboys shooting up aliens with the help of Indians?” And then when it came to the final battle, the alien’s one weakness was thrown out the window because of ‘reasons.’ It’s kind of like the part where Jake goes back to get his gang and they’re going “He has to be doing something while talking to them in order to look like an asshole. Oh, I know, Jake smokes! He’ll be rolling a smoke.” Seriously, that didn’t come into play until three quarters of the way through the movie! I mean, the world building was neat. There were cool flying machines and scary aliens, who didn’t use their technology in the hand to hand part of the combat which made no sense but okay. There were energy weapons and rocket space ships and machines that sucked gold out of the ground (and nothing else). There were horses and six shooters and guys shooting bow and arrows. If the movie had been more focused on the world that they spent so much time on, it might have been more successful. So, this cookie gets saved.

Cowboys & Aliens feels like a student film experiment that happened to get a big budget with a few big name stars. The world was rich and lush while the characters were flat. The plot was full of holes and the women didn’t have a lot to do. Overall a disappointment and a failure. One gingersnap.

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