We were supposed to see Cowboys & Aliens last Friday when it opened, meeting up with my good friend Cole and his son John. But alas, I had to stay put and prop my leg up for a few days, so the guests just brought Joe Chicago's pizza up to the house. (mmm)
However, we were able to fix this wrong with our company this week. (double-grin)
Cowboys & Aliens [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre #6, 1:35pm, 2×$6.75
Cowboys & Aliens is a prototypic Western. Complete with Wanted men, people trying to circumvent the judicial system, such as it was in Ye Olde West, and a town terrorized by bullies. It's also your evil alien invasion/torture/abduction film. If you've been watching Spielberg's Falling Skies on TNT this summer, you'll feel right at home here. And it doesn't hurt that it invokes fond memories of Firefly's mix of SF and Western.
In literary terms, Chekhov's gun refers to the plot requirement that if you show a gun in Act I, you need the gun to go off by Act III. (grin) Cowboys & Aliens' got Chekhov's gun, Chekhov's knife, Chekhov's long gun, Chekhov's alien armband weapon. (grin) And Chekhov's pretty but disturbing girl. (double-grin)
What intrigued me was the unintended collateral damages going on throughout. Ever wonder what happens when drunks wildly "shoot up the town"? Suddenly it ain't so fun no more.
But the real heart of this movie is the characters. Sure, there are some stock central casting types to fill out the ranks, but there's depth and complications to all the leads. We are supposed to think ill of Harrison Ford and well of Daniel Craig in the beginning, but they're much more than that. Ultimately, our ragtag assortment of humans are going to have to band together their diverse traits to fight the aliens, but it takes time to get there.
Adam Beach, who did so well in the PBS adaptations of the Tony Hillerman Jim Chee novels, and the films Smoke Signals and Windtalkers, starts out as a bit player, and one we aren't supposed to think much of, except again there's so much more. And of course I've written in praise of Olivia Wilde before, in Tron: Legacy. Here she plays a mystery woman whose mysterious interest in Daniel Craig is mysterious -- it doesn't help that the woman whom Craig loves looks similar -- and is much more than she seems.
The design of the alien tech is mostly excellent, especially the look of the flyers and the mothership, which looks solid and real in its environment. It's believability is in part based on its vulnerability, which is why cowboys versus aliens isn't over in three minutes. But... why must aliens always be naked and slimy? And if they avoid direct sunlight, why haven't they invented sunglasses? And why aren't they actually sensitive to sunlight?
Overall Cowboys & Aliens is well made and well paced. Excellent summer fare. Our local reviewer seemed to feel it could've been any Western with thugs terrorizing a town -- but that's silly. Instead it does everything it needs to do, in part because it takes itself seriously without becoming a parody.
Trailers: Contagion by Steven Soderberghhas a killer cast. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet (!!), Laurence Fishburne. I'll be there. In IMAX.