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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 05:53 am

Cowboys outduel aliens in clever mash-up

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Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in Cowboys and Aliens.

When Hollywood execs bandy about ideas like throwing malevolent aliens into a traditional western, it’s referred to as a “high concept.” Obviously, this proves that those in charge of making movies are just as intent on fooling themselves as they are you, dear viewer. And while Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens will never be mistaken as a game-changing movie event, it’s a reasonably entertaining piece of popcorn cinema that delivers exactly what it promises, which is something.

Based on the comic book series from Platinum Studios, the movie first introduces us to a dangerous stranger suffering from amnesia who’s been saddled with a mysterious piece of hardware on his wrist. We come to find out that he’s wanted outlaw Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who’s promptly arrested when he comes to the town of Absolution and is about to be hauled off to the territorial judge when the “high-concept” of the movie comes calling. As alien spaceships strafe the main street, plucking innocent townsfolk for examination, Lonergan realizes that his high-tech bracelet has the ability to take the UFOs down, an ability that puts him in the crosshairs of Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a ruthless cattle baron who forms a posse to track the aliens in order to find his kidnapped son (Paul Dano).

Favreau does such a fine job rendering the necessary western tropes that I wished the film had played it straight throughout. Truth be told, the aliens are a bit of a disappointment (think malevolent turtles on steroids) and the film’s third act is an exercise in predictability. Still, Craig’s icy cool plays well against Ford’s gruffness and the cast’s willingness to play it straight saves the day. If the film proves to be a hit, perhaps a traditional oater would be made to introduce a new generation to white hats, black hats and high noon showdowns. Now that would be a high concept.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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