The Cynical Optimist vs. Cowboys and Xbox 360 Aliens


Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, “Alien,” was a masterful exercise in hybrid filmmaking — “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in space — a creaky old spaceship becomes a house of horrors, with its very own monster, hiding in the dark, killing off the crew one by one.

The powers that be in Hollywood love the idea of a hybrid film, because it’s marketable. You take two successful ideas and smash them together until you’ve got something more successful.

It’s easy to imagine the pitch for a movie like Ron Underwood’s 1990 film, “Tremors.” There’s Ron in some conference room over at Universal, and he’s desperate to make his Graboid picture – he’s got to hook the big-shot executives with something sexy — the first words out of his mouth are “It’s like ‘Jaws,’ but in the desert!”

Which bring us to Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s 2006 graphic novel, “Cowboys & Aliens.” I’ll admit, it’s a great hook: an old-fashioned Cowboys & Indians Western with an Alien Invasion twist.

Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) and executive producer Steven Spielberg would have you believe their film adaptation of “Cowboys & Aliens” is a pitch-perfect blend of John Ford’s “The Searchers” and Spielberg’s own “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

It’s one Hell of a pitch, but unfortunately, the final product feels more like “Young Guns II” clumsily cobbled together with “Battle: Los Angeles.” The film’s only saving grace is its cast. Thanks to Spielberg, Harrison Ford is once again cast opposite of James Bond, in this case, Daniel Craig.

Aside from the dynamic duo of Indiana Jones and James Bond, “Cowboys & Aliens” is a rather disappointing, uneventful summer blockbuster. What’s worse are the aliens themselves, generic insectoid creatures that could have easily stepped out of any lame first-person shooter on Xbox 360.

The script is flimsy, downright silly at times, and does little to pay homage to the great Westerns or Sci-Fi films that inspired it. Every time the story veers off course, Oliva Wilde’s character seemingly solves every issue effortlessly so the characters can proceed to the next nonsensical plot point.

The film’s biggest crime is that it’s boring. A movie titled “Cowboys & Aliens” should be more fun than this. It should have been “True Grit” meets “District 9,” but instead it’s the bastard child of “Wild Wild West” and “Independence Day,” minus Will Smith and the face-punching battle cry, “WELCOME TO EARTH!”

“Cowboys & Aliens” isn’t the worst movie of the summer, not by a long shot (that spot is reserved for the likes of “Green Lantern,” “The Smurfs,” “Zookeeper” and “Cars 2.”) With that being said, it may very well be the most disappointing.