Despite the title, Cowboys & Aliens wasn't given the greenlight because of the fun possibilities seemingly inherent in the western-sci-fi mash-up. By all accounts, the film was based solely on the cover of a graphic novel which bore that title, which by Hollywood standards doesn't come as surprise. After all, if you can create a billion dollar film franchise from a theme park ride (ie POTC1-4), you should be able to rake in a lazy 100 mill with a blockbuster wherein cowpoke take on extraterrestrial folk.
And with Iron Man director Jon Favreau at the helm, and Steven Spielberg as one of the producers, one could reasonably expect a slick and entertaining adventure, right? Well, sort of. Cowboys & Aliens has definitely been slickly produced but what it lacks is a sense of fun. Any playfulness ends with the title, as Favreau has his A-list cast play it straight and the nine - count 'em, nine! - screenwriters fail to muster much excitement.
When Daniel Craig's Jake Lonergan wakes in the Arizona desert, 1873, with no memory of how he got there or even his name, and with a metallic bracelet strapped to his wrist, he goes in search of answers. What he finds is a dust bowl town unofficially ruled by army colonel cum cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), and terrorized by his son, Percy (Paul Dano).
It's here Jake learns that he is actually a wanted man but before the town's sheriff can send him on to the city to stand trial, aliens swoop into town, randomly scooping up the townsfolk. The remainders, led by Jake and Dolarhyde, form a posse to track down their loved ones and kick some alien ass.
That posse includes a boy, a dog, and Olivia Wilde. She's the mysterious Ella who seems to be there to provide exposition and possibly allay any fears that the film will take a turn off the wagon trail and head for Brokeback Mountain. Spoiler alert: she does get naked.
The publican, Doc (Sam Rockwell), is also along for the ride in the hopes of saving his wife. Rockwell is credited as one of the writer's which I originally assumed meant he ad libbed some of his scenes, although I don't remember him saying or doing anything of note which in itself is some sort of achievement: a forgettable Sam Rockwell performance? WTF?
Cowboys & Aliens may not be entirely forgettable but it's bound to disappoint a great many who go in expecting a sense of fun which that title implies; certainly the showdown with the aliens (distant cousins of the prawn-like creatures from District 9) when it comes is anti-climactic. Daniel Craig, however, is solid (and hot in chaps) as the high plains drifter but Harrison Ford, continuing his grizzly schtick form Morning Glory, isn't funny. Trust me, Harrison, I was, for the most part, as bored as you looked.