Cowboys & Aliens

Based on a comic book, this Hollywood redux gets lost in translation  

On paper, Cowboys & Aliens has it all: two of cinema’s biggest names (Daniel 'James Bond' Craig and Harrison 'Indiana Jones' Ford), a director (Jon Favreau) who has helmed some of the less vacuous recent summer fare (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), and a mash-up of the evergreen Western and science fiction genres.

But alas, Cowboys & Aliens – which began as a comic book, or a drawn novel, or whatever we’re supposed to call them these days – has lost it all in translation.

Let’s get the story out of the way first. Craig’s character wakes up in the middle of the New Mexico desert in 1873 with a bloody wound, a strange metal bracelet and amnesia. He beats up some varmints, then heads to the nearby one-horse town of Absolution, lorded over by gruff cattleman and retired colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford).

Turns out Craig is hardened criminal Jake Lonergan, but before the sheriff has time to administer old-fashioned justice aliens attack and abduct random townsfolk.

For the next two hours, Lonergan, Dolarhyde and various walking clichés (Sam Rockwell’s timid barkeep, Clancy Brown’s tough-talking preacher, a kid, a dog) must band together to save their loved ones and restore law and disorder to the Wild West.

The most interesting thing about Cowboys & Aliens is that it took seven writers to come up with this guff. It’s impossible to care about any of the characters for the duration of a single line, never mind throughout the film, never mind afterwards.

If you can even call them 'lines'. Ford bags the sole utterance worthy of the IMDb’s Memorable Quotes page, when Dolarhyde scotches the notion the aliens have come to steal Absolution’s gold: ‘What are they going to do with it? Spend it?’

Craig, meanwhile, simply mutters one word at a time (‘Yeah.’ ‘Right.’ ‘No.’), and seems scared to move in case it affects the lighting on his pecs. As for 'The Woman', played by Olivia Wilde, she is central to one of the naffest twists ever committed to the big screen.

Visually, some stunning locations are undermined by the CGI ciphers that pass for the aliens. When is Hollywood going to learn that men in suits and make-up will always be more effective than digital squiggles? On the bright side, at least it’s not in 3-D.

Intellectually, Cowboys & Aliens has as much going on up top as your average scalped Injun. No one seems interested in where the aliens might have come from, or what it could mean for mankind. Instead, Favreau cobbles together a mess of Jaws riffs and Star Wars camera moves, hoping viewers will be too busy munching popcorn to care.

And sadly he’s probably right. This is just one more hollow, noisy blockbuster with no heart or mind. Needless to say, it’ll be a huge hit.

Cowboys & Aliens is on general release now.