This movie fails through no fault of  Daniel Craig, eminent badass and wielder of alien technologies.

Cowboys and Aliens is another in the long string of bad, depressingly and offensively stupid movies. I used to think people who complained about “them dumb summer movies” were just curmudgeons and critics with bungholes they used for growing trees. Admittedly, I like some brazenly stupid movies just fine but I find that more and more, I’m sick and fucking tired of a certain type of movie-as-concept stupidity peddled by hack writers (oh look, it’s Orci and Kurtzman again!)and cynical studios trying to cannibalize geek culture without ever properly understanding it.

I am not going to be respectful about this movie. I am not going to protect you from spoilers. I must discuss plot and character details to make my case for just how massively Cowboys and Aliens falls short of it’s undemanding mark.

As the trailers told us, the movie is a Western that includes aliens who are abducting people. A group of assorted Wild West hooligans, dames, kids, and Harrison Ford band together to go find out what dem demons is doin’ wit der kinfolk.

The staple man-with-no-name-reluctant-laconic-anti-hero is Jake Lonergan, played just fine but with no real flair by Daniel Craig. He’s respectably quippy at times but too compromised by not one but two boring, vague love stories. He does kick ass on demand but it just isn’t enough. I found myself appreciating his costume design more than anything he did or said. But the dude is watchable, so we’ll give the movie.

He’s surrounded by about as geek friendly a cast as you could want and they all come out more or less intact but none used to full effect. If you’re going to get Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, Sam Rockwell, David O’Hara and Keith fucking Carradine to play small parts in your movie, for the love of all that is holy, please give them interesting characters. But nooo. Nope. They mostly do nothing and say stupid shit. Rockwell alone gets to be funny and badass, which aside from the alone part is as it should be.

Only Paul Dano shows any real range or vitality in his unlikable character, creating a glaze-eyed and cruel little buffoon, the only son of Ford’s surly cattle baron. I like Paul Dano and the sleazy Percy Dolarhyde is an actual stretch for the shit he’s done so far. Acting, am I right?

But you don’t really care about any of them. You only want to know about Harrison Ford. Well it’s right, what you heard. He does actually give a performance in this movie but the snarling asshole he plays is too much like how I have come to see the man beneath the hat. He does get in a few great growly speeches, one where he talks to the ever-moppet Noah Ringer (of The Last Airbender), but mostly he’s just a hollow shell of faux-gravitas saddled with the best of a piss-poor bunch of absently-sketched character arcs. His change of heart comes at the convenient moment before a great big last charge against the formidable aliens who are, in true dumb action movie fashion, suddenly HELPLESS against the combined might of Ford and his new best friend, Chief Would-Be-An-Offensive-Stereotype-If-It-Weren’t-So-Boring. And their fucking spears. Spears! Not Britney, not bald crazy nor fat, but actual like flint-tipped wooden fucking spears. Through bullet-proof alien carapace like hot Britney through funnel cake.

This is a movie where they used Olivia Wilde’s bare shoulders as part of the marketing. It is true commitment to concept, downright risque in the context of the period involved. Good job, guys.

Olivia Wilde shows none of the charm that significantly improved the mostly-grim Tron: Legacy and is mostly a damsel in distress (who never fires the gun she wears over her nightgown) and exposition box. She is also a weird love interest for Craig’s gunslinger but spends most of her time asking about his dead girlfriend. Unfortunately for her, she is saddled with the most ridiculously fucking stupid parts of the movie.

First, it is revealed that she is an alien who has taken a human body to stop the other aliens, the ones who look like Super 8 aliens gorilla babies. She dies first, of course, but then walks out of a bonfire to scare all them injuns into submission. To them, she’s a spirit from beyond the stars, and not some crazy white woman who looks like she walked out of an Avon ad. Maybe they thought that keeping all the grit and wear of the period off Wilde would foreshadow her otherwordly nature. They were stupid to think this. She doesn’t fit and it ain’t because they were sly about her origins, because they weren’t. She pretty much wears a sign that says “I knows somethin’ sekret” from the second she shows up.

And seriously, when she walks out of that fire all aglowy and then starts expositing like the quest text in World of Warcraft, the movie about fucking lost me. She is an utter plot convenience as character, having vague properties in service to whatever the movie needs of her, but mostly it’s just useful facts about the aliens at opportune moments. Oh and a heroic sacrifice, of course.

Then there’s her big kiss scene with Jake, predicated on another spot of convenient exposition about his wrist-mounted cannon thing. Oh, it’s a bomb too, and he can get it off if he “stops thinking”. Right, so then she kisses his stupid face and it falls off (the bracelet, not his face because that would have been too much to ask at that point). Fuck you, writers of this movie.

As for the rest, it’s almost depressing to think about. I want to tell you about the over-telegraphed and emotionally hollow surrogate-father arc between Ford and Adam Beach’s character (Beach acts well but deserves better than roles like this). Or about the casual and outdated cultural insensitivity with which the movie’s obligatory contingent of Noble Savages are treated. Or about the ridiculously ludicrous notion that these aliens are here to mine gold and eat humans while they do it. Oh, and the gold is part of their reproductive cycle. Of course! You’re going to hear about how this is just a wink at the campy gold-crazy storylines of “classic Westerns” but don’t you believe it. It was a fucking stupid idea one of the fifteen hacks who cobbled together the script added after giving himself a pat on the back for being so fucking clever. And that is exactly what it feels like when you’re first told that they want ZAT GOOLD by Olivia “Exposition-whore” Wilde. When even Craig looks incredulous she offers this nugget of justification, “it is as rare to them as it is to you”. Orly? Didn’t you fucking nimrods watch Battlefield Earth? I bet you did and I bet at least one of you is a Scientologist and thinks this is a homage which elevates the dumb cowboy alien movie you were forced to write to afford your girlfriend’s botox injections. Cuz dammit, she’ll get her big break if she looks smooth enough.

No she won’t.

By now you can no doubt tell that I hated this movie. I fucking did, duh. I couldn’t believe the shit they tried to get away with. These are movies as marketing exploitation. You can see them checking off the boxes. They even, of course, fit in the Campbell shit again. Which is why this isn’t a real Western. Cowboys and Aliens just pantomimes a few tropes from the most skimmy of skimming necessary to convince people that it only looks like they’re on soundstages half the movie. It’s for real, guys, it’s got horses and everything.

It’s supposed to be some “handing off the mantle” shit from one generation of iconic movie hero to another. Yawn.

I think the problem with this movie is that it was just one or two dumb second act scenes too many. If it had not gleefucked its own credibility as a bimbo’d genre mashup so thoroughly via Alien-Olivia-Wilde’s “big twist”, some of the idiocy that came afterward might have been easier to swallow. I expect that I will be kinder to this movie on repeat viewings if perchance I am ever tortured by religious extremists who have done their homework on me. I am sure there are a few good parts, maybe a line or two. Because I really did want this movie to be as fun and bonkers as it seemed when I first heard of it and first saw the glorious trailers. So there has to be some of that to discover once the insult fades and the hurt heals? Some morsels of guilt-free entertainment to be mined, stupid alien like, from the harsh and barren landscape of Cowboys and Aliens.

If there are, I can’t think of them now. I am too busy thinking of The Cultural Bigotry Tribe curing Jake’s amnesia with juice from the Oh-My-That’s-Convenient plant. Otherwise known as probably fucking peyote. This is a thing that happens. It is a thing that I will remember forever and hate even longer, and it is with the recollection of this thing that I end this fucking review.

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