Cowboys and Aliens (Rated PG-13) Three Stars08-17-11-cowboys-&-aliens.jpg

Well, I feel rather foolish. I (and I keep my ear pretty close to the ground on this stuff) had no idea that Cowboys and Aliens (118 minutes) was based on a comic book. Here I was, planning to criticize it for being a screenplay by committee, when it turns out that the SEVEN guys with writing credits included the comic book author. You know what? I am still going to criticize it for being a screenplay by committee, because as fun as it is, there are a couple of subtle issues with it.

First of all, really dudes? Six guys working on it and nobody thought, hey, we’ve got a chick in this thing, maybe we oughta get a female co-writer? Apparently not, which is why, aside from Ella (Olivia Wilde), girls are strictly background in this one. There is one other slightly developed female character, but she gets taken out of the game pretty quick. And, in the grand tradition of action movies, the male characters tolerate but do not welcome her, and save her a few times since she cannot save herself. But she does a pretty good job of maternally protecting the young’un on several occasions. Because that’s what women are good for. Sigh.

And don’t get all up in my face about how her role at the end of the movie redeems the character, because up until that point her character is not only dead-weight, she is also irritating, what with the wandering around saying “I know something you don’t know!” Of course, I admit that may be due in part to the fact that Olivia Wilde is extremely irritating, and that she is Hollywood Attractive rather than Real World attractive. At least she looks super-pretty in firelight!

Second of all, the ending is more than a little bit unsatisfying on an emotional level. The writers set up this great father/son (Harrison Ford and Paul Dano) con-flict. Then they establish that the father is a sadist and the son is an idiot. Then, at the halfway point they proceed to ignore the sadism of the father, and by the end of the movie the audience is expected to completely forget that the son was an idiot. Maybe it’s that Harrison Ford isn’t selling his character? And he just wants to play the role like Indiana Jones as a cowboy? And when he tries to be murderous and evil (see What Lies Beneath) he still projects anti-hero type goodness?

Third, sure, set your science fiction film in the old west. But if you’re going to do that, train your actors to sell the idea that what a modern audience calls alien is perceived by western stereotypes as demons. Seriously, whenever Doc (Sam Rockwell) calls them demons, you can tell he is mentally rolling his eyes … and that goes for most of the main cast.

But that’s not to say it isn’t a decent action western science fiction movie. Grab that box of popcorn and settle in because it is mostly pretty fun.

Set in 1873, the hero of the piece (Daniel Craig) plays a great western character. In fact, age him up a few years and I could total-ly see him playing the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Is he bad? Is he good? It’s super hard to tell since he can’t remember anything from his past. Once he ends up in the defunct gold mining town of Absolution, the character is summed up nicely by the local preacher (Clancy Brown! Good to see you!) … good people do bad things, bad people do good things, etc.

Too bad he is being singled out more for the bad things he has done. Not too long after he gets into town, he is arrested by Sheriff Taggert (Keith Carradine! Good to see you too!). Naturally, this is when the aliens show up.

The effects are decent, the aliens are pretty cool looking, and there are enough twists to keep you guessing (if you haven’t read the comic book or seen the trailers, which give away all the twists).

Now showing at Wynnsong 7, Carmike 12 and Carmike Market Fair 15.

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