More fun than it really should be, Cowboys & Aliens does a surprisingly good job of combining a gritty B-grade western with a Saturday matinee science fiction flick into a pretty darn entertaining flick — think The Searchers meets Independence Day.
A man with no name (Daniel Craig) awakens in the middle of nowhere with no memory of who he is, how he got there, or where the wound in his side and the strange high-tech bracelet on his wrist came from. An immediate, brutal encounter with a group of bad men does let us know that he’s an even badder man.
Shortly after he arrives in the nearby town of Absolution, it’s revealed that the man is wanted bandit Jake Lonergan, and an encounter with the arrogant son (Paul Dano) of the local hard-nosed cattle baron Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) sets up a classic western confrontation that is quickly cut short by an attack that sees many townspeople carried off by alien raiders. As in any old-fashioned oater, the locals form a posse and set off to get there people back; a hesitant Jake joins in hopes of getting his memories back.
Combining these two seemnigly disparate genres in film is nothing new, though it usually involves the grafting of western elements into out-and-out sci-fi stories (i.e., Westworld, Outland, Battle Beyond the Stars, Serenity, et al). Cowboys & Aliens puts just as much (if not more) emphasis on its western roots, at least so far as to include those classic tropes of the whiskey-soaked preacher (Clancy Brown), the saloonkeeper named “Doc” (Sam Rockwell), a plucky young boy (Noah Ringer), bandits, lawmen, Apaches, shootouts, et cetera. The characters are well-defined, and fleshed-out by a quality cast that also includes Keith Carradine, Olivia Wilde, and Adam Beach.
There’s also plenty of bug-eyed monsters, spaceships, and explosions to earn its Summer Blockbuster cred, and director Jon Favreau is savvy and confident enough to play it straight rather tahn revert to the half-hearted satire or comedy that others do with these sorts of genre mash-ups (I’m looking at you, Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex).
NorthPark, UA Galaxy, and Studio Movie Grill have your movie. Showtimes here.

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