With a terrible title and a dodgy genre mash-up, it’s easy to see why ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ bombed after its release back in 2011. But, it’s a shame audiences didn’t really give it a chance because there’s some unashamed fun to be had.
Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a man who wakes up in the desert with no idea who he is or why he’s wearing a strange bracelet. However, Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde seems to recognise him and Lonergan’s soon arrested for a crime he has no recollection of committing. But, as luck would have it, he’s the only one who can save the town when a squad of spaceships start wreaking havoc.
What the film is basically saying is ‘who cares about Indians, why not have cowboys fight aliens, instead’; a set-up which sounds like the brainchild of 12 year old and, at times, it shows. But this stupidity is pretty much limited to the sci-fi side of things, with the monster’s design and motives being all over the shop.
Instead, it’s the western-side of it all that really shines through. Though cowboys have been a hard sell in recent years, the film does an admirable job of capturing the excitement of rooting-tooting gunslingers, while attempting to tweak conventions to appeal to modern audiences . . . even if, as its box office seems to show, it didn’t really work. The landscape cinematography captures the beauty of classic westerns and the cast does a solid job of making it all feel authentic, with Sam Rockwell’s barman being the standout.
The film also has its heart in the right place . . . mostly. It never feels cynical and stands as an admirable celebration of human endeavour, especially with regards to the relationships with the Native American characters. It must be said, though, that there are moments when the film drifts away from its family friendly rating with bursts of overly harsh violence but, fortunately, they are few and far between.
In the end, a wacky premise and boring enemies are ultimately overcome by an enjoyable sense of old-fashioned adventure.