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Cowboys & Aliens lassos provocative premise and little else

Sci-fi western all twit, no grit

Cowboys & Aliens

Now playing at Oakridge, The Rio and Scotiabank

It reads like an unprecedented machismo genre mash-up: cowboys and aliens, two Boys Life magazine mainstays guaranteed to splatter testosterone all over the screen.

But hold your horses: this genius idea is about to go stale right quick. It starts with the dusty residents of Absolution, concerned but not particularly traumatized that rootin tootin flying machines are buzzing through town stealing their citizenry. (Remember that this is before flying. And machines. Youd think theyd be more alarmed.)

A stranger walks into town wearing a nifty metal bracelet on his wrist that occasionally lights up and blows things to pieces. He cant remember his name, or much of anything else, so just call him Jake (Daniel Craig). Cattle rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) may be a crusty old thing, but even he knows its handy to have a guy like that around.

As this is a western, the men immediately form a posse and head out in hot pursuit of the demons. Joining them is Ella (Olivia Wilde), a determined filly set on doing her part. Turns out Ella knows quite a bit about Jakes past and that shiny ET accessory on his forearm. Now if she could just get him to remember, and then forget, his former flame, a victim of alien probing.

Before Team Cowboy faces off against Team Alien, theyve got to tussle with a band of outlaws and some Indians. But theres nothing like flying hunks of metal to make people break out the peace pipe. They team up to rescue their loved ones and destroy the core of the ship, before the aliens strip the land of all its gold and take over the planet.

The reason for this alien gold-rush is never explained. Nor is that paddle-wheeler sitting in the middle of the desert, though it sure is a purdy setpiece.

Theres a sense of déjà vu once we come face to face with a shrieking alien, who turns out to be a garden-variety space guy who even leaves green, slimy tracks. (Couldnt these guys ooze yellow or pink, for a change?)

Rescue from a flying alien craft is a lot different than a rescue from a runaway stagecoach, but Craig executes thisand all scenesstraight-faced, and with steely cowpoke concentration. The fact that all actors fully commit to the premise is what saves the film from being pure pulp, but there is still an inordinate amount of posing on the actors part: on horses, with guns slung on shoulder (looking slick, Sam Rockwell) and everywhere else in this dusty set.

I love that the many writers responsible for the script (based on a comic book) and director Jon Favreau included cowboys lassoing aliens, in perhaps the most iconic scene in the movie. But come on: these myopic alien baddies are really bad shots, considering theyre facing men with spyglasses and shotguns. At least the green guys are considerate enough to take a break from battle so that Fords character can have a poignant moment with his illegitimate son (Canadian Adam Beach). Ford, having done both the outer space thing and the cowboy thing, resorts to growling most of his lines, taking his cowboy cue from Jeff Bridges in True Grit.

Cowboys and Aliens should have been unadulterated good fun. Instead its little more than a titular premise with a nonsensical plot, a cautionary tale for future genre hybrids.

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