Review: Cowboys & Aliens

(M) **

Director: Jon Favreau.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Paul Dano.

THIS title will either have you cheering in anticipation or scoffing at the sheer ludicrousness of it.

Cowboys & Aliens certainly does what it says on the box (yep, it's got cowboys and it's got aliens) and it gets points for its audacious idea, but this mash-up of wild west and deep space ends up being a few cattle short of a herd.

Craig plays the gunslinger who wakes up with no memory, seemingly dropped from the sky, and with a bizarre contraption fused to his wrist.

After making it into town, he learns he's Jake Lonergan, who's wanted by the local sherriff (Keith Carradine) for a host of crimes including stealing from local rancher and resident big shot Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford).

Dolarhyde's already in a bad mood due to a mysterious attack on his cattle but he's in a worse mood when he rides into town to get his revenge on Lonergan.

And then the aliens show up - in spectacular fashion.

Cowboys & Aliens is fantastic for its first half, fully embracing its western setting but also relishing its sense of mystery. Even though the audience has a fair idea of what's going on thanks to the prevalence of UFOs and ETs in our pop culture, it's enjoyable to watch the townsfolk of Absolution come to terms with and deal with this anachronistic threat.

The introduction of the aliens, done with pyrotechnics aplenty, is fantastic, leading to a good old-fashioned posse populated by interesting characters brought to life well by the strong cast - Rockwell, Brown, Dano and Beach are no slouches, and Craig and Ford make for great cowboys.

So far, so good, but somewhere along the way it goes all wrong.

The problem lies in Olivia Wilde's character, the mysterious Ella and her role in the latter portion of the film. Having happily rolled along for its first half by keeping grounded in its western roots, therefore toning down the ridiculousness and giving it a level of believability, Cowboys & Aliens suddenly jumps the shark when Ella's purpose is revealed, and the film never quite recovers, descending into a series of messy shoot-outs and a sci-fi need to explain.

Maybe you'll buy into its shark-jumping moment more than me, but this is definitely a film of two halves - the first is a fantastic western-mystery, the second is a lazy and silly sci-fi.

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