At the Movies: Cowboys and Aliens

I’ve considered about a dozen leads for this review and I don’t like any of them. So let’s just go straight to the plot summary and then I’ll give you my somewhat mixed opinion on “Cowboys and Aliens.”

That’s right. I’m on vacation.

The movie opens with a mysterious stranger (Daniel Craig) waking up in the desert, Arizona territory, 1873. He’s got a strange bracelet manacled to one wrist, a belly wound and no memory of who he is or how he got there.

He makes his way to the small town of Absolution where he has an altercation with Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), the town troublemaker. Percy is the son of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy, rough, no-nonsense rancher who pretty much runs the town.

A wanted poster reveals that our mysterious stranger is Jake Lonergan, a no-good outlaw guilty of many crimes — including robbing a stagecoach full of gold belonging to Col. Dolarhyde.

The sheriff (Keith Carradine) is about to send Percy and Jake off to the nearest authorities and the Colonel is about to take matters into his own hands when in swoops some flying metal contraptions that shoot up the town and take off with several of the townfolk — including Percy and the sheriff.

Dolarhyde gathers together the menfolk, a boy (Noah Ringer), a dog and a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) to form a posse to go after their stolen kinfolk. Jake doesn’t want to get involved but, of course, he does. As you might guess from the movie’s title, the abductors are not indians but extraterrestrials, which will make rescuing the kidnapped Absolutionites a challenge.

“Cowboys and Aliens” has a lot going for it — a talented director in Jon Favreau, a good cast, decent special effects and gorgeous desert landscapes. It’s a solid popcorn, summer action flick. And unlike some of the season’s big blockbusters, it has a plotline that’s easy to follow and actually makes sense.

And yet it’s also very formula, particularly the last half of the movie. Every character has a heroic arc that they follow to its predictable end. Doc (Sam Rockwell)  is a mousey saloon keeper who has never fired a gun, so naturally he will kill an alien at just the right moment. Dolarhyde gives the boy a knife and tells him to be a man and when the time comes, he does. And so on.

There’s a lot of action in “Cowboys and Aliens” but not a lot of suspense.

For me, the most interesting aspect of “Cowboys and Aliens” wasn’t the showdown but the mystery of who is Jake Lonergan. Watching Jake struggle to put the pieces together as he meets people who knew him and the shocking revelation of how he escaped the aliens was the most compelling part of the story.

Did it work for me? Liked it, didn’t love it. It’s about 80 percent Western and 20 percent sci-fi, and that’s about right. The Western elements were much more interesting than the aliens.

Oh, and bonus points for NOT BEING IN 3D.

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