COWBOYS AND ALIENS Review - Against All Odds, This is a Crushing Bore

Cowboys. Aliens. The hot chick from Tron. Indiana Jones and James Bond. The director of Iron Man. Why, oh why is this so bloody boring?

rating: 2.5

It comes from a comic book and via the director of Iron Man. It stars James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). The supporting cast includes the always interesting Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde - the extremely hot one from Tron: Legacy. And true to the title, it's got cowboys AND aliens in it. Now, this mix doesn't promise a quality film necessarily, but it definitely doesn't suggest a bum-achingly dull one. So why, oh why is Cowboys and Aliens so bloody boring? Well mostly it's because it takes itself too damn seriously. There are some pithy one-liners, Rockwell does well with what little he is given and Ford - for the first time in a long time - looks like he's having fun as a cranky, old cattle ranch owner and semi-villain. But overall the tone is far too earnest for the subject matter. It's a premise you expect to be light-hearted fun but the whole thing feels flat, uninspired and bereft of personality, right from the start as we open on Craig awaking in the Arizona desert with no memories and an exotic extra-terestrial weapon on his arm. Craig walks into an Arizona town to collect his thoughts and we soon discover that he's a wanted outlaw, at which point things get a bit fractious and the law are called in. He's jailed, along with Ford's spoiled, troublemaker son (another weirdo role for Paul Dano), and the cantankerous old father comes to the rescue with a mob. Only for some reason Ford doesn't just demand his son back, he wants Craig too. It's a classic stand-off: the law versus a posse. Then aliens show up, blast everything and steal half the townsfolk, including Dano, leaving the remaining characters to become unlikely allies and mount a rescue mission, with Ford taking Craig along for his mysterious weapon, whilst the outlaw is looking for answers about his own past. But even in its attempt to play things straight, the film still manages to air on the silly side completely by accident, with some truly preposterous turns along the way - the most striking having to do with Olivia Wilde's character (whose identity I'll keep secret even if the trailers give it away). Perhaps conscious of how boring his film was looking, Favreau also contrives to get Wilde's white dress wet as often as possible and has her nude at one point, though this exploitative treatment of her character clashes with the otherwise grimly serious tone. The aliens are silly too when we see them, resembling enlarged versions of the insectoid critters at the end of Attack of the Clones. Yet, crucially, none of the above is ever silly in a way which is funny or even mildly diverting. If the film could be summed up by one colour, that colour is dusty brown. Action sequences are likewise uninspired, with one or two imaginative monster kills barely registering above the blandness. Perhaps action is not Favreau's strong suit, after all the Iron Man films (the finale of the first one especially) came in for similar criticism when it came to explosions and bullets. The only time this movie threatens to come to life is when Craig and Ford share the screen, but that pairing roughly accounts for less than a third of the film - and even when they are in the same scene they are usually concerned with different inane sub-plots: along with Dano, Ford has two surrogate son characters to fall in love with, whilst Craig and Wilde have their own trite romance story to work through. None of this bad exactly. The direction is competent, the actors are competent, the effects are OK and the mixing of science fiction and western genres just about gels, but it just never gets there in terms of making you give a damn. It's hard to imagine the film being this dull had Iron Man's Robert Downey Jnr not passed on the role later given to Craig. I suspect, rather than being a strong, mostly silent type, Downey Jnr's version would have been fun and charismatic - properties the final film lacks totally. Craig is the quintessential vanilla hero: a blank slate. He's gruff and serious and, like the film, an empty vessel. It could have been bad, it could have been great, but Cowboys and Aliens had no right to be boring. Cowboys and Aliens is released in the UK from August 17th.

A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.