Bored with nailing bromances, superhero adventures and Christmas comedies, Jon Favreau turns his attention to the western...and sci-fi. Cooking up a bizarre fusion of Tex-Mex space popcorn, the result is something like watching a smart kid playing with all their toys at once.
Despite the ridiculous concept, Favreau makes the mash-up work – for the most part – by playing it straight, creating a moody, old-fashioned adventure that delivers satisfying helpings of exactly what its title suggests it will.
Waking up with no memory and a strange, new metallic wristband, gunslinger Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the nearest town and picks a fight. Attracting the unwanted attention of wealthy cattleman and local hard-ass Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), tensions simmer just as a gang of bug-eyed, fish-skinned space bandits fly down main street and start shooting up the saloon and lassoing hapless folk into the sky.
Putting their differences aside, Lonergan and Dolarhyde team up with the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) to lead a ragtag rescue posse.
However miserable they both look throughout the film, there’s something undeniably cool about watching James Bond and Indiana Jones fight aliens on horseback.
A monosyllabic Craig crowbars in another topless scene, and while Ford only manages a few sarcastic flashes of his former glory, there’s no denying the iconic dash they cut together.
If the dark, dusty Cowboys half of the film is suitably cinematic, the dark, gloopy Aliens section looks good too. Using practical effects and some impressively restrained CGI, Favreau’s beasties (designed with the help of Guillermo del Toro and executive producer Steven Spielberg) look as imposing in the Arizona sunshine as they do in the slimy tunnels of the mothership.
If only their assaults on townsfolk, cowpokes and the local Apaches didn’t become so relentlessly samey.
Mixing The Searchers with War Of The Worlds, and Sergio Leone with James Cameron, Cowboys & Aliens owes most of its DNA to the work of better filmmakers.
Favreau’s enthusiastic commentary, a host of FX featurettes and his own cast interviews (included on the Triple Play) make the shoot sound a lot more fun than what ends up on screen. Wrung through with so much passion, it’s a shame that none of it ever really rubs off.
Missing the magic spark that made its many influences crackle with electricity, it never quite shakes the sense of watching an A-list cast thrown into a B-movie blender. A solid western and a solid sci-fi nonetheless, it’s not often you get two for the price of one in your summer blockbusters.