119 minutes

Yes, on paper it sounds like a terrible idea to have Wild West cowboys battling mischief-minded aliens from another planet – it's the sort of things that seems tailor-made for a comic-book (which is where it actually originated) or a spoofy cut-rate, budget-minded rip-off. Instead, at the behest of Steven Spielberg, whose Dreamworks studio part-funded it, we get a serious, star-studded major-studio blockbuster boasting a truckload of producers and a handful of screenwriters. And the resulting mash-up is... actually not that bad, as long as you adjust your expectation level and realise this would work so much better as the second-tier B-movie it so clearly wants to be.

     The trick is Jon Favreau's execution of the premise as an honest-to-goodness (and rather solid) western, only with aliens intent on conducting ghastly experiments on humans while stripping us of our gold rather than Indians as the villains, writing in as well the abduction scenarios mr. Spielberg is so fond of. Lo and behold, it does make sense together thanks to the earnest (but not overly earnest) conviction all involved bring to the table, starting with Daniel Craig's brooding presence as Jake Lonergan, the outlaw that wakes up without his memory and with a strange iron shackle on his wrist, only to ride into the desert town of Absolution and band together with its upstanding citizens in a posse set to rescue a kidnapped party from the marauding aliens.

     Playing it straight is exactly what saves Cowboys & Aliens from falling down the mineshaft of ill-advised high-concept blockbusters, with a few eerie, neat touches coming clearly from the twisted minds of J. J. Abrams alumni Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who shaped the final script into production. It still doesn't rise above the mindless silliness of the premise (nothing could); but even if it's too "out there" for audiences other than fanboys and pop culture observers, it is a smartly done, cleverer-than-average blockbuster.

Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford; Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown.
     Directed by Jon Favreau; produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; screenplay by mr. Orci, mr. Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a story by mr. Fergus, mr. Ostby and Steve Oedekerk, and on the graphic novel by mr. Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; director of photography (colour, Panavision widescreen), Matthew Libatique; production designer, Scott Chambliss; costume designer, Mary Zophres; film editors, Dan Lebental, Jim May; visual effects supervisor, Roger Guyett; special make-up and animatronic effects, Shane Mahan. 
     A Dreamworks Pictures/Universal Pictures/Reliance Entertainment presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of an Imagine Entertainment/K/O Paper Products/Fairview Entertainment/Platinum Studios production. (US distributor, Universal Pictures. World sales, Paramount Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), August 16th 2011. 


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