Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reel To Reel: Cowboys & Aliens

Riders in the sky.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Western violence, mild profanity, one partially naked lady

Until now, the closest mashup I've seen between the wild west and a wild visitor from outer space was that time the 1st Virginia shot down that flying saucer in Poland Junction. We should've called it Confederates And Aliens. But now the war's over, or is it? An invasion force is taking over the range in this hybrid of Alien, Independence Day, Super 8 and Unforgiven.

Lone wolf Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of the New Mexico desert with a nasty wound, a mysterious bracelet on his wrist, and no memory of how either got there. He heads for the nearby town of Absolution, a dying gold-rush town run by Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). The colonel's son is a habitual troublemaker, but he goes too far after an encounter with Lonegran. The son ends up in jail, and eventually Lonergan joins him after we find out he's a fugitive who's been robbing coaches for gold. Just when Colonel Dolarhyde comes to bust his son out of jail, Cowboys And Aliens ceases to be a conventional western. Alien spaceships fly in, blowing things up and lassoing earthlings like in that old video game Defender. Now it's up to Lonegran and Dolarhyde to find out what's happening to the town and to their people.

Craig's Lonergan will no doubt remind a lot of people of Clint Eastwood in one of Sergio Leone's movies -- the mysterious stranger with almost no name, but who can handle a gun like nobody else on the planet. So I guess it's understandable when we see how quickly he learns how to use the bracelet stuck to his wrist. Cowboys And Aliens doesn't waste time meditating on its own surrealism; it deals with trouble in the best way possible for people with saddles and six-guns. We know an armed posse poses little chance against space invaders with blasters, but the characters don't know that. To borrow from another western, they have true grit.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, the premise looked silly, one of those awful studio ideas that make it onto film because it provides a vehicle for effects. However, Cowboys And Aliens is a well-acted adventure that straddles two genres without parodying either one. I can lay a lot of that at the feet of Ford and Craig, and director John Favreau (Iron Man) deserves some props.

Some people will roll their eyes at this film, thinking aliens have no business in 1870's America simply because science fiction or aliens as we know them hadn't been invented yet. That's two-dimensional thinking in a four-dimensional universe for a movie that's not in three-dimensions.

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