Manohla Dargis doesn’t much like “Cowboys and Aliens” in today’s New York Times. But I give her credit for a word usage you don’t see much anymore. She used ‘adept’ as a noun, and called director Jon Favreau a ‘pop adept.’ You usually see (or hear) adept as an adjective, as in skillful. “So and so is very adept at skeet shooting,” someone might say. But a “pop adept” Is that what Jon Favreau is? Good for him, but Dargis is right. “Cowboys and Aliens” is kind of a bust. It’s been so heavily promoted over the last year, you’d think it had already been released.
What a campaign! But in the end, this weird hybrid of a western and a sci-fi thriller is neither fish nor foul. Nothing about it ever really works. And so much of it is borrowed from other films, it’s annoying. I had always thought that “Cowboys and Aliens” would be funny, with inside jokes, lots of meta stuff about film, and maybe a little goofy–like Favreau’s “Iron Man.” Alas, “CandA” is a drag. The first hour moves slowly and seriously. Is it an homage to westerns? It’s no “Unforgiven.” Is it a send up? It’s far away from “Blazing Saddles.” It’s no “True Grit,” either.
Then, the aliens arrive. They are quite ugly and unfriendly. Their “hands” emerge from their stomachs–sort of like “Alien.” Mostly they’re just gross. The cowboys–Daniel Craigf and Harrison Ford–are grim. Luckily, Sam Rockwell is there for a little comedy. He’s the perfect western ‘doc.’ Olivia Wilde is just gorgeous, and much needed. But there are endless nods, from “Independence Day” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Too many, in fact. “Cowboys and Aliens” makes no memories of its own.
Anything positive? It was nice to see Keith Carradine. And David O’Hara is always terrific. Paul Dano — highly underused in this story. And Harrison Ford? Very adept.