Thursday, September 20, 2012

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) directed by Jon Favreau

MPAA rating

PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference. 

ZPAA rating

Young teens and up

Gore level

3 out of 10--not much human blood in this one, though there are some wounds; the aliens have the most bodily fluid (kinda greenish) flying around; some aliens perform experiments on humans that are messy and intense.

Other offensive content

One naked woman, but nothing explicit is seen (she walks away from camera and all you see is her back); some mild swearing and profanity; some drinking (it's the old West, after all); lots of shootouts and fights though not too gory.

How much zombie mythology/content

No zombies here, just aliens.

How much fun

There are some funny lines like in any movie. It's more sci fi action/adventure and is fun enough in that way.

Synopsis & Review

A man wakes up in the deserts of Arizona with no memories of who he is. He has a funny gizmo wrapped around his wrist. Three guys ride up and assume he's wanted for a bounty, so they try to take him. He beats and kills them all, takes some guns and better clothes, and heads into town. In the town of Absolution, he is patched up by the local preacher (who also packs a rifle). The preacher gives the amnesiac some advice: The good Lord don't care about what you did in the past, it's what you do now that's important. The man winds up in a confrontation with the son of the local cattle baron which lands both of them in jail. Before the sheriff can take them to the U.S. Marshall, the town is attacked at night by strange lights from the sky--ships that capture a bunch of the locals, including the cattle baron's son. Luckily, the gizmo activates when the alien ships arrive and the man shoots one ship out of the sky with it (regular bullets do nothing). The pilot escapes, leaving a trail of inhuman footprints for the posse to follow.

The movie has great production values. Southwest America looks great and the aliens are seamlessly integrated into the visuals, making the movie a treat for the eyes. The aliens are a bit of a PG-version of the alien from the Alien franchise, though they are scary enough for this film. The one misstep production-wise was an explosion that looked a little too much like the space shuttle Challenger exploding. It was a bit of a shock though it must be unintentional.

The tone of the movie was a bit off for me. I expected a movie with the title "Cowboys & Aliens" to have a lighter, more comic tone. There are funny lines and occasional humorous moments, but mostly it's played as a straight drama. That'd be okay but I didn't find the back stories of the amnesiac or the cattle baron very interesting or their characters sympathetic. Rooting for them was a little hard since I didn't care that much, even though they were played well enough by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. The theme of redemption is touched on throughout the film but I did not find it very convincing at the end.

Maybe the problem is the genre-mash-up aspect of the film. The high water mark for genre-mash-up has to be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which combines a period drama with a kung fu flick with a romance with a mystery. The big difference between Crouching Tiger and Cowboys is the starting point. Crouching Tiger starts with a great story that spills over into all these other genres, like a rosebud unfurling its petals. Cowboys seems like a bunch of people took all these cool petals and tried to put a flower together. The credits show seven different writers and seventeen producers, co-producers, and executive producers. The compelling, central story just isn't there or it got lost in a long line of people trying to shape it just right. A lot of neat ideas are in the film but they don't quite make a cohesive whole.

Cowboys is entertaining enough for a rainy day. If I ran across it while channel surfing I might watch a bit but it wouldn't keep me on the channel.

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