Critical Mass: Split decision on ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

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The crowds flocking to see ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ this weekend will likely be split into two camps: those rooting for the cowboys and those rooting for the aliens. The critics have already divided into two camps of roughly even size: those who enjoyed director Jon Favreau’s genre mash-up and those who would rather see the movie hogtied and shot.

The Times’ Kenneth Turan is in the latter camp. Despite boatloads of talent, he calls the film ‘a leaden mash-up of western and science-fiction elements that ends up noisy, grotesque and unappealing.’ He goes on to say, ' ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ displays one thumping cliché after another as if its bankrupt derivativeness was in some way reinventing the wheel.’

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis isn’t a fan, either. Sharing many of Turan’s complaints, she goes on to speculate that perhaps it was the presence of executive producer Steven Spielberg that is the film’s real fault. She writes, ‘It isn’t just that he is a veritable genre and brings a legacy and specific filmmaking ideas with him; it’s also that J.J. Abrams, who directed ‘Super 8,’ and Mr. Favreau, each a pop adept, have skewed heavier and less loose with the Great Man on board, as if awed by his genius instead of his early gift for fun.’

Occasionally, a terrible review gives the critic license to get creative with his metaphors. Check out this humdinger Richard Corliss came up with to close out his pan in Time magazine: ‘We wish that the movie had lived up to our expectations and its makers’ ambitions. But in films as in foods, some hybrids make sense and others don’t. ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ could have been the tangelo of genre-blenders. Instead, it’s more like the Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake & Sausage on a Stick.’


On the other side of the street are the critics who had a good time seeing stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde run around in period costume and fire six-shooters at beasts from beyond the stars. Roger Ebert says the film ‘has without any doubt the most cockamamie plot I’ve witnessed in many a moon.’ But goes on to write, ‘As preposterous moneymakers go, it’s ambitious and well-made.’ However, he does say, ‘I feel a certain small sadness. I wish this had been a western. You know, the old-fashioned kind, without spaceships.’

Hollywood Reporter critic Kirk Honeycutt reviewed the film from the San Diego Comic-Con International and, viewed in that context, was perhaps more forgiving than his colleagues. He writes, ‘For a tentpole Comic-Con movie, this one devotes a gratifying amount of time to character and achieves most of its success because Favreau has intelligently cast his film and let his actors do their thing.’

San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle covers it all, the good and the bad, in his mostly positive review. He writes, ‘For the most part, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ delivers. Favreau has a subtly satirical sensibility that can suggest absurdity simply through camera placement.’ But he also says, ‘The movie combines cowboys with science fiction only for the sake of doing it, for the fun of it. Like the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ you already have the best joke going in.’

Let that be a warning to you.


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Photos: Beyond ‘Cowboys & Aliens’: A western for every genre

--Patrick Kevin Day