'Cowboys and Aliens' has ammo but no aim
Placing James Bond (Daniel Craig) with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in the hands of the director of “Iron Man” (John Favreau), then stamping on the slap-happy title of "Cowboys and Aliens" is bound to result in a summertime mashup as cool and welcome as a Slurpee on a sizzling day.
Sadly, this film is more apt to produce a cinematic brain freeze than any form of refreshing relief at the box office. Not since Will Smith saddled up against Kenneth Branagh in 1999's "Wild Wild West" has a Western been so ill-conceived.
Nowhere near as playful as its title would suggest, "Aliens" could have been a spectacular hybrid of two divergent-yet-similar genres ("A Fistful of Lasers?" "Lone Star Wars?"), but instead grafts together the worst clichés of each and tries to play it all off with a straight face.
In the film, set in the late 1800s, a man with no name (Craig) wakes up with no memory, a strange bracelet, and one hell of a right hook. Those first few scenes hold the promise of a gritty homage with Craig scowling like a spawn of Eastwood.
When he stumbles into the local town of Absolution, he immediately finds himself at odds with a local cattle baron, Dolarhyde (Ford), and encounters residents who help him piece together his identity, for better and worse.
But the entire town has much bigger issues in the form of citizen-snatching UFOs that occasionally zip overhead, level buildings, scorch cattle and thin the population. This causes a number of characters (or clichés) to set aside differences and band together to battle these otherworldly marauders.
It all sounds like a rip-snortin' hoot, but its story heads down dusty trails that lead nowhere, with characters we care very little about, and special effects that are both dark and dime-store in quality. Craig certainly commands with his piercing glaze, bravura swagger and hulking physique, and Ford - who's already proven he can handle the "Aliens" of the title - is equally at home on the range of the Western genre.
But the rest of the cast (Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach) are but tumbleweeds who roll through and vanish without consequence. This helps not at all when the climactic showdown takes place on a nearby alien space station. What should have been a pyrotechnic bonanza is muddy, muddled and much too late.
It perhaps is not worse than some of the other summer flotsam that has washed ashore ("Transformers 3," I am looking right into your dead, soulless eyes!), but it is the most disappointing by far for all the squandered potential.
Too long, too serious and too much, "Cowboys and Aliens" has more than enough ammunition in its holster but absolutely no aim.