In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s all goofy, not very good CGI aliens, little winks to the camera about the wackiness of high-tech meeting the old west, and one awkward battle scene after another. ”
“Don’t yank on it, it’s not your pecker.”
In 2011, Jon Favreau had played a major part in establishing what is now the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe, by directing two mega successful Iron Man movies. In 2011, Daniel Craig had helped reinvigorate the James Bond series and after only two movies, was already considered one of the best to ever play the titular spy. In 2011, Harrison Ford decided to soil the pants of Star Wars nerds everywhere by taking a role in another alien centric, sci-fi movie. In 2011, Olivia Wilde was one of Hollywood’s next ‘it’ female stars. In 2011, Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell and Keith Carradine all held status as some of the leading character actors of their respective generations. In 2011, the nerds had won and comic book movies were officially ruling the big screen, with fatigue yet to set in. Yet, with all of that going for it, Cowboys and Aliens kind of shit the bed.
It’s the old west, and Jake Lonegran (Craig) wakes up with no idea where he is or how he got there. What he does know is, there’s a strange metal brace clasped to one of his wrists. When some no good cowpokes stumble across Jake, they think the brace is a handcuff, which means they think Jake is an escaped prisoner, which means they think there might be a bounty on his head. When they try to take him down, Jake reveals himself to be one of those movie bad asses who can perfectly land any bullet or punch without even looking at the target or breaking a sweat. Winning the day, he takes their clothes, a horse and one of their dogs, and heads to the nearest town.
When he arrives, Percy Dolarhyde (Dano) is obnoxiously shooting up the main street, until he’s arrested by local Sherriff, John Taggart (Carradine). But since Percy is the spoiled son of local big shot rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), Taggart knows it’s only a matter of time before Dolarhyde senior rides into town to bail his son out. Meanwhile, Jake has been recognised as a local outlaw with a bounty on his head. He might not be able to remember what he’s done, but the law does. That night, with Jake and Percy locked up in the back of a wagon to be taken to the courthouse in the next town, all hell breaks loose when the small, 19th century town, is attacked by alien aircraft, kidnapping many of the town’s folk. So now uneasy alliances are made by the outlaw, the Sherriff, the cattle baron, the local doctor (Rockwell) and mysterious drifter (Wilde) to find their kidnapped kin and bring them home.
I just described a shit load of plot, acted by a huge list of all sorts of amazing actors. And all of that’s just the first act, maybe half an hour of the movie’s two hour running time. So with so much going on, performed by such a usually reliable cast, why is Cowboys and Aliens so boring? One of the main reasons is, that busy setup is all about plot, not character. It gets all of these moving parts into place, but the characters are no more than that, moving parts. We only know who cares about who, because they literally tell us, over and over again, with clunky dialogue. We never see them exhibit who they care for or why, so there’s no reason for the audience to give a shit about the abducted friends and family or their rescue.
Even that would have been easy enough to look past if the movie delivered fun, interesting action and cool set pieces. But in the end, it’s all goofy, not very good CGI aliens, little winks to the camera about the wackiness of high-tech meeting the old west, and one awkward battle scene after another. Such a simple, high concept that could have been really fun, ends up trying to capitalise on too many genre tropes, and ends up squandering them all.
Budget $163million / U.S Box Office $174million
Instead of Cowboys and Aliens, watch a much more intense, but just as genre smashing insane western, with Bone Tomahawk.