MOVIE: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

A few months ago, two friends and I decided to form a little bad movie lovers gang (you know, like the Crips, only far too lazy for violent crime).  The plan was to get together periodically and go see something in the theater that looked delightfully awful.  The first flick we picked was Sanctum, an entertaining stinker that fit that description quite excellently.  We spent most of that movie guffawing inappropriately and had a grand old time.

This round, our selection was Cowboys & Aliens, which, after reading half a dozen reviews that panned the poo out of it, we were sure was going to be as bad or possibly even worse than Sanctum.  Popcorns and Diet Cokes in hand, we settled in for what was certain to be another two hours of snickering.  Ye-heh-HES!

Imagine our surprise, then, when we all three ended up enjoying this film quite a bit. What the . . . WHAT?  Sure, it makes little sense (but since when do alien movies make much sense?), but it’s actually pretty entertaining, and not just because the costume designer so beautifully tailored the seat of Daniel Craig’s pants, making them cling perfectly to his butt cheeks’ every slope and curve.   They’re truly a marvel of sartorial art, those pants.  Add to them  a pair of chaps, and what you have is sheer rear perfection.

(After the movie, one of my friends remarked that chaps are kind of like push-up bras for asses — you’ll see what she means if you check this film out.  Humina humina.  WOW.  Ahem.  Whew!  And I’m still laughing at the fact we all three noticed this phenomenon and couldn’t wait to remark on it to each other as soon as the credits rolled.  This is a truly grand gang we’ve got going, I must say.)

Okay, so, the plot:  The story opens with a classic Western set-up — dashingly gruff cowboy finds himself in a new town where he immediately encounters trouble.  In this case, it’s Jake Lonergren (Craig and his butt), who wakes up in the desert with total amnesia, a strange-looking metal cuff on one wrist, and an equally strange-looking wound in his abdomen (just above and around to the side from his butt).  He makes it to the nearest town only to collapse on its outskirts, where he’s discovered by the town’s pastor/doctor/sage (Clancy Brown), who treats his wound and introduces him to the town’s Big Jerk (every Western’s got one) right outside the church’s front doors, rustling up a fight.  He’s Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the arrogant, drunk, insecure, screw-up son of a local wealthy cattle rancher, cantankerous ex-Civil War colonel, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).

When Percy accidentally shoots a deputy, Jake flattens him (not with his butt) and Percy ends up in jail.  The problem is, the town’s sheriff has a wanted poster hanging in that same jail with a picture of Jake’s face on it.  And pretty soon, Jake finds himself (and his butt) in Percy’s adjoining cell.

When the colonel rides into town to demand his son back, the two prisoners are being transferred to a coach to take them into the nearby “big city” where they can be tried for their crimes.  Before the coach can get moving, though, strange lights appear in the sky and suddenly a bunch of ships start zooming by, firing lasers, exploding buildings, and scooping up several of the townsfolk.

Jake manages to get (his butt) free and the strange metal bracelet on his arm suddenly activates himself.  When he pulls its trigger, it fires, bringing down one of the ships, just as Percy is nabbed by another.  And now it’s, you know, cowboys and aliens, as Jake and the colonel form an uneasy truce and, along with several of the town’s other residents, including a strange woman named Ella (the truly awful Olivia Wilde), band together to try to destroy the aliens and rescue their people.

The concept sounds silly, I know, but if you think about it, it’s really no sillier than any other aliens vs. Earthlings movie I’ve ever seen.  The aliens themselves don’t make a lot of sense in terms of their design (for one thing, they have an extra set of arms with extremely dextrous fingers and better capability for forward motion, yet in order to USE those arms, they have to expose their vital organs.  Hmm.  Might want to try to evolve out of THAT, I’m thinking), but at least they don’t look exactly like human beings save for big heads (man, I hate that).  Granted, they look so radically different from humans it’s hard to believe they’re so readily able to breathe our atmosphere and find stuff to eat.  But whatever.  No one ever seems to get this exactly right, and how could they when there’s so much we don’t know about outer space?

The first half of this film is pretty damn great, if you ask me.  As a stand-alone Western, without the alien elements, it’s well made, and the costumes and set design were great (though ’tis true I’m a total sucker for Westerns).  When the group finds themselves teaming up with the local Apache tribe to invade the aliens’ home base, on the other hand, things get pretty silly pretty fast.  And yet, even then, I was completely entertained, only rolled my eyes a few times, and, as I said, greatly enjoyed checking out Craig’s mesmerizing backside (the filmmakers provide an absolutely ridiculous number of shots of said backside, by the way, but it’s hard to fault them too much for it).

I also liked that both the bad-asses in the film — Jake as the traditional “Man With No Name”-type character and Ford’s Col. Dolarhyde — weren’t your usual one-dimensional Western bad-asses.  They both had relatively complicated personalities, and the colonel in particular was a truly interesting character, in my opinion.  His obviously horrific experiences in the war left him hardened and bitter, willing to fight but hating to fight, and he frequently takes that dissatisfaction out on his son Percy, whom he considers to be an absolute coward.  At his side more often than not is a young Native American man the colonel had taken in as a boy, Nat (Adam Beach — and yes, this movie’s a veritable ex-Boyfriend of the Week smorgasbord for sure!), who respects and loves the hell out of Col. Dolarhyde, even though the colonel mostly treats him with disdain.  As they fight side-by-side to get Percy back, however,  Col. D. comes to realize how solid Nat’s character is and their relationship finally begins to bloom in a very masculine, yet also very touching kind of way.

My two friends seemed to consider the colonel an irredeemable jerk, and there’s good enough reason for that.  But he actually reminded me a lot of my own father, a Marine who also fought in a brutal war — tough on the outside, with a big, big heart on the inside he hasn’t always been confident enough to reveal.  It was refreshing to see both this character in general, and Harrison Ford playing this character in specific.  The last few Ford movies I’ve seen had me worried his time as an actor was done — he mostly just grunted and scowled his way through Morning Glory, for example.  But he was spot-on perfection in this role and I hope he manages to land more parts like this one soon.

In retrospect, I can’t help but think the movie reviewers who hated this film went into it thinking all the wrong things.  I think their expectations were probably too high, and I will grant them that a movie entitled Cowboys & Aliens sure sounds like it ought to be a comedy, which this film most certainly, at times laughably, is not (it IS a truly bad title — I would’ve gone with REALLY Bad Day at Black Rock, myself).

Go into it expecting it to be good-bad, though — somewhat badly thought-out, fairly goodly acted — and you will be rewarded with two hours of definite fun.  And also, did I mention Daniel Craig’s ass?  Because DANIEL CRAIG’S ASS.  <– Mentioned.

Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Sci-fi, Western
Cast:  Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Adam Beach, Clancy Brown

14 Responses to “MOVIE: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    Interesting – it’s been getting desperately bad reviews elsewhere (apart from the, ah, visual effects that you described). Might give it a look after all…

  2. zini Says:

    I am laughing my own ass off because I had THE EXACT SAME REACTION to DC’s costuming. I can’t believe you start out your review with that! This is why I adore your site. I too enjoyed the flick and went in without too many expectations.

  3. Jo Says:

    I really, really wanted to see this in the theater, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to get the chance. I hope the DCA factor isn’t diminished (so to speak) on the small screen.

    Speaking of bad movies, how do you feel about movies that are purposefully bad? Because I finally got around to watching The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and it is now in my list of top 10 favorite movies, ever. My whole family is going to be quoting it for years.

  4. Meg Says:

    Bad movies that are bad intentionally are probably my all-time favorite genre of film. “Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” is BRILLIANT! I’m psyched you saw that, Jo!

    • RogerBW Says:

      Have you seen Black Sheep?

      • Meg Says:

        I assume you mean the 2006 one about genetic experiments and not the Chris Farley flick? But I haven’t seen either, so my answer would be “No, is it good?” either way, I guess!

        In which case: No, is it good?

      • RogerBW Says:

        Yes, the 2006 one, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0779982/ . It follows a fairly standard killer-animal movie plot… but the animals in question are NZ sheep. I found it hilarious fun and recommend it most highly. (I’m not a great fan of gore effects, but these are silly enough to be highly laughable.)

      • Meg Says:

        Sweet! That sounds great! I just plunked it into my Netflix queue and will probably get it in a couple of days. Sounds like a blast!

  5. Jo Says:

    I had forgotten about that one! I remember seeing the trailer for it and laughing hysterically.

    Also, there is a sequel to the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (The Lost Skeleton Returns Again) that I need to watch, although I’m afraid it will never live up to the brilliance of the original.

  6. Liz Says:

    Jo, I have no idea how do even DO an “interweb” thing!

    I was really looking forward to this movie, and am very cross that the reviews have been so negative. I bet Meg is right – they went in, expecting the wrong things! I also hoped to see it in the theatre, but I guess I won’t get the chance.

    The “Skeleton” movies sound good, but I’m afraid I’ve gotten so sensitive about animals in movies that I might not like the sheep one.

  7. Liz Says:

    I take it back! Just checked out “Black Sheep” on IMDb & saw trailer. It DOES look funny – esp. when they try to use mint sauce as a weapon against the sheep. Hey! I’m a little off-track from “Cowboys and Aliens!”

  8. james Says:

    james…

    […]MOVIE: Cowboys & Aliens (2011) «[…]…

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