Monday, August 8, 2011

Love? Squalor?: Cowboys and Aliens

The still you see above is the pudding proof of what this film is all about.  Yes, that's a cowboy.  Yes, that's the eerie blue ray of an alien craft.  Yes, that's Daniel Craig's ass in neatly tailored pants and chaps.  I note this as someone who typically would pay absolutely no attention to Daniel Craig's posterior (or, really, anyone's for that matter).  Here, though, it was like every scene was about the ass.  It was insanely hard not to notice Daniel Craig's behind.  In all seriousness, as I watched Cowboys & Aliens I became more and more convinced that Jon Favreau had called a meeting with his cinematographers and crew and together they had a discussion that went like this:

JF: "Look, straight up?  We got James Bond for this film."
C&C:  "Right, right, we know."
JF: "He's a Brit, so he's not the natural choice for a cowboy, but he's got one thing that will make everyone forget..."
C&C:  "Well, I mean, he's a pretty good actor..."
JF:  "Yeah, well, forget that, not the point.  The point is: did you see that scene in Casino Royale? The one with the speedo?"
C&C:  "Sure..."
JF: "Well, picture that...but in chaps."
C&C:  "What are you saying?"
JF:  "I'm saying I want you to think of Daniel Craig as two people.  Right?  He's in two leading roles, ok?  He's not Daniel Craig, he's Daniel Craig's ass and Daniel Craig's chin.
C&C: "......"
JF: "You're right, I know exactly what you mean, we need Daniel Craig's pectoral manboobs to play a supporting role.  Let's write in some scenes without the shirt.  Alright everyone?  We're losing the shirt..."
C&C: "....."
JF: "Ass. Chin. Pecs.  He's a skinny little Ken doll.  A skinny little tight end.  I want everyone to want to grab that thing."
C&C: "......"
JF: "If you're not focusing on any of those three things...give us Harrison Ford's scowl."
C&C: "......."
JF: "That's it.  Remember: Ass. Chin. Moobs. Scowl.  So money.  Beautiful.  Good talk."
Alright, so maybe there's a little more to the film than that.  I laughed the first time I saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens.  Hell, I laughed the first time I saw the oh so slightly punny project title.  It's an absurdly honest descriptor, up there with Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses, pure summer blockbuster cross-genre pollination.  Part of me wishes the film were as kitsch and camp as the title implied.  Monikers like these, after all, deserve punchy bad dialogue, casual dismissal of plot, and a cameo appearance by Hugh Jackman.  The film had great potential as a raucous B-movie trip.  Imagine the possibilities: frontier people speaking in stunned trances about lights in the sky, Westworld-esque cyborgs sent as Klaatu spies amongst the saloon patrons, a sequel titled Cowboys & Aliens 2: In Space!   I'd pictured relentless action, flayed cows, and a 19th century X-Files investigation into whether or not the disappearances were the work of Native American Skinwalkers.  Surprisingly, though, and perhaps disappointingly, Cowboys takes itself rather seriously.  I'll be the first to admit that the film works better than I'd anticipated.  Favreau cast Daniel Craig wisely, and he adds a hefty ounce of tough man-with-no-name gravitas to his role as extraterrestrial battling sharpshooter Jake Lonergan. We learn to like Jake, and we learn to like him quickly.  He's got a knack for a smartly timed swift kick to the groin, and somehow details like that make for outstanding character references when we have little else to go on.  We give Jake our vote of confidence and because of this, our relationship with the hero transforms an otherwise ludicrous film into something agreeable.
While Cowboys & Aliens is just as silly as it sounds, it does manage to be a quick and painless bit of entertainment.  All things considered, actually, it's a perfectly standard western.  The aliens here want gold, just as any other self-respecting bandit.  We're not sure why they want it, but we know that it's rare.  We can assume they need it for chunky chains and hoop earrings.  So, we have alien bandits, a mysterious stranger, a suffering town, a lady with a pistol, and a bitter old businessman (Harrison Ford) bleeding the town dry.  They play it straight, and - against all odds - this works well enough.  It's an odd bit of brainwashing. Because the actors are playing everything cool and with conviction, the film becomes easy to go along with. So, just shrug your shoulders and accept that Cowboys & Aliens is a thing that exists.  You shouldn't think too much while watching the hulking monsters attack, because if you do, your brain may actually explode.  Since your brain has been shut off, you will notice things like Daniel Craig's ass.  Don't be alarmed: he is most certainly wearing pants that are too tight for any reasonable cowhand to maneuver in.  You may also find that you're perfectly comfortable learning that another in the search party is "not what they seem,"  that Harrison Ford is just there to frown, and if you see a knife in the first act, it'll be used in the last one.

1 comment:

  1. I was disappointed by the fact that there was no real actual different or cool things happening here. Just the same kind of generic film we've seen come out almost every weekend lately. Good Review!


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