The title Cowboys and Aliens suggests a Western/Sci-Fi mash-up romp. With a cast including Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell and directed by Jon Favreau (the man behind the Iron Man movies) this should have been a slam-dunk. It is not. Cowboys and Aliens is an amazingly dull and absolutely humorless mess of a movie.
Little of the blame falls on the cast. Craig does a reasonably good job, taking several pages from Eastwood, as the dangerous and mysterious Lonergan. Ford’s Dolarhyde has Ford’s trademark gruff weariness. Wilde, Rockwell and the rest acquit themselves quite well; especially with the material they are given. Likewise with the special effects. The aliens aren’t the most inspired designs ever, but they look reasonably good. And the lights and sounds their ships emit are suitably otherworldly. It is actually somewhat sad that their efforts were all wasted.
The problem lies on the fact that the plot is unbelievably dumb. Dumb in and of itself won’t sink a movie. When it comes to summer blockbusters dumb is to be expected. But Cowboys and Aliens is not only dumb, it is very, very serious. Outside the premise, it tries to be as “real” as possible. That circles back around to the fact that the plot is so very dumb, so clichéd and trite, for any forced realism to seem believable. A touch of humor would have helped in this regard, an acknowledgement of the childish absurdity of the premise, but unfortunately, that is nowhere to be found.
Even without the misplaced tone, the sheer stupidity of the story would not have let the film be anything more than a guilty pleasure. Wilde’s Ella exists with no explanation asked and none offered. Lonergan seems to be an experiment in just how many clichés can be jammed into one character. Dolarhyde doesn’t so much have a character arc as he has a random assortment of character moments to hit. Coincidence and happenstance drive nearly the entire plot. Our gang of heroes track a wounded alien to an overturned riverboat, but never think to check if it is inside before they set up camp inside. The aliens appear to be immune to pistol shots, but not the arrows, spears or wooden mallets employed by the Native Americans. They cover stretches of land with little regard to the time elapsed in between. Most of these flaws could be ignored if the movie took itself less seriously.
This humorless, incomprehensible mess is nearly unwatchable. I have never come so close to walking out of a theater mid-movie. Cowboys and Aliens treats its cliché riddled plot and story with a respect they don’t deserve. It is as stupid as a low budget B-movie without the winking charm. This is simply a terrible movie.