Spiel­berg goes west

The Jewish Chronicle - - Theatre -

IT IS its prove­nance as much as the prom­ise of its trailer that make Cow­boys and Aliens such a dis­ap­point­ment. Di­rected by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, its pro­duc­ers in­clude not only Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, but Steven Spiel­berg. Given that Spiel­berg was also a pro­ducer on Su­per-8, the­sum­mer’sother­bigdisap- point­ing block­buster, per­haps the great man’s pres­ence some­how un­der­mines his pro­tégés.

In­spired by a comic-book’s cover, Cow­boys and Aliens should be, and at times is, great fun. But there have many more in­ter­est­ing at­tempts to com­bine science fic­tion and West­ern movie tropes as long ago as West­world and as re­cently as Fire­fly. The prob­lem lies less in the di­rec­tor or the per­for­mances but in a lousy screen­play. It is a bad sign when a film has a com­mit­tee’s worth of cred­ited writers. Those listed here are all es­tab­lished­fig­ures­fromthe­worldof dreck-TV and by-the-num­bers ac­tion flicks. Their wit­less, cliché-rid­den di­a­logue seems all the more tired against the back­ground of su­pe­rior ef­fects, ac­tion se­quences and cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

In Ari­zona ter­ri­tory in 1875, a wounded cow­boy (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with a fu­tur­is­tic metal bracelet at­tached to his left wrist. He suffers from am­ne­sia but, as is quickly clear, has al­most su­per­hu­man fight­ing skills. Jake (as his name turns out to be) stag­gers into a small min­ing town where he is op­er­ated on by the lo­cal preacher.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards, he meets a strange beauty (Olivia Wilde) and gets in a con­fronta­tion with the lo­cal landowner’s bully of a son — a cow­boy Uday Hus­sain. This lands him in the lo­cal jail where the sher­iff (Keith Car­ra­dine) recog­nises him as wanted by the fed­eral authorities. Jake is due to be taken to Santa Fe for trial when the bully’s fa­ther Do­larhyde (Har­ri­son Ford) rides into town with his thugs.

Do­larhy­deis­about­tolynchJake­when space­ships ap­pear in the sky and bomb the town. It is only when Jake shoots down a space­ship with his bracelet ray­gun that the at­tack stops, though the wounded alien pilot gets away.

Do­larhyde, Jake and the towns­peo­ple join forces to search for the alien. Even­tu­ally, af­ter some vi­o­lent en­coun­ters, they are joined in their quest by Jake’s old gang and a band of Apaches, in a sen­ti­men­tal man­i­fes­ta­tion of hu­man sol­i­dar­ity.

The movie is jammed with self-con­scious film-buff ref­er­ences. They are al­ready tire­some by the time, only half way through, an alien shoves its drip­ping jaws right next to the face of a ter­ri­fied boy in an ex­act im­i­ta­tion of the fa­mous scene in Aliens.

Wilde’s big-eyed, o t h e r - w o r l d l y beau­ty­is­per­fect­for her­char­ac­ter’srole. But there are times when her Bev­erly Hills groom­ing is in com­i­cally sharp con­trast to the other char­ac­ters’ filthy ap­pear­ance.

De­spite her in­tel­lec­tual pedigree (Wilde is the daugh­ter of the writers and fierce anti-zion­ists Les­lie and Andrew Cock­burn, and dis­tantly re­lated to Eve­lyn Waugh), she comes across here as oddly va­cant.

If Har­ri­son Ford fails to con­vince as Do­larhyde it is be­cause the screen­play de­mands that you change your per­cep­tion of him from vi­cious vil­lain to cur­mud­geonly hero too quickly. Even Gene Hack­man, who has played sim­i­lar roles sev­eral times very well in the past, would have a hard time pulling it off.

Daniel Craig, how­ever, could hardly be bet­ter cast. There is noth­ing pretty about his raw, weath­er­beaten hand­some­ness and he fits into a West­ern en­vi­ron­ment with the ease of Steve McQueen.

Watch­ing Craig on screen in an ac­tion role is al­ways a plea­sure. It is un­for­tu­nate for him that the film’s cos­tume depart­ment, which does a fine job of lend­ing pe­riod au­then­tic­ity to the other char­ac­ters, puts Craig in a tight leather waist­coat and chaps that make him look like he stepped out of a Soho gay bar.

Har­ri­son Ford and Daniel Craig battle against a lousy screen­play

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