MFR Rating: ★
If you ever needed to give an example of a ‘high concept’ film it would be Cowboys & Aliens. The premise is in the title and that’s all that’s needed to bring the droves flocking into the big screen. You expect something that will be fun. Something that will be preposterous. There will be Cowboys. And Aliens. It was utter tosh.
Cowboys & Aliens stars Daniel Craig as a man awoken in the middle of the desert with no memory but a strange futuristic device appended to his wrist. Audiences can be forgiven for assuming this device is a watch Craig regularly checks as he attempts to kill time before MGM get their acts together to commission the next Bond film, but instead there’s a load of wearisome backstory to go with it. Both Craig and co-star Harrison Ford play their roles with the boredom and contempt the script deserves, devoid of anything moderately amusing, spectacular or entertaining. They’ve not been given anything to work with so they just sit at their desks, wait for the clock to reach 5, leave and get paid. Fair enough.
As far as the writing goes, it’s utterly plot driven and makes no attempt to make the characters even two dimensional. You don’t expect delicate character portrayals, but you do expect at least a couple memorable features for each hero. No personality, let alone charisma. Added to that, the plot that drives the movie is a complete mess, plodding away with Craig either beating someone up or getting beaten up every 6 and a half minutes. The cowboys react to the aliens with the surprise you may feel when it suddenly starts to rain. Mildly annoyed, but nothing you haven’t seen before. Suspense, comedy, fear – all completely absent.
The western element takes itself far too seriously when the world created could not feel less compelling. The sci-fi element is generic to the point of tedium. Imagining all the climatic and outrageous scenarios that can occur when cowboys and aliens clash: the movie just dawdles, and dawdles and…did I remember to feed the cat?
Visually there is nothing distinctive. Much of the opening and middle of the movie is incredibly dark, denying any brightness to shine on what should be a vibrant and energetic genre clashing universe. There’s really nothing distinctive in the whole movie. It tries to force a few quotable and ultimately forgettable one liners, but nothing really happens beyond going through the motions. We have this quirky, crazy concept. We can easily make an eye-catching two minute trailer. Word of mouth surrounding the concept will mean people won’t pay attention to the critics and who can blame them. How could cowboys battling aliens not be fun? Watch and learn.
Cowboys & Aliens is out on 17th August UK and out now in the US. Running time: 118 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank