That’s not to say it’s a complete disaster. Much of the western vibe found in the cowboy story is entertaining. There’s the quiet stranger, a loner who manages to be both fierce and lovable; the really bad kid whose daddy runs the town; a brave sheriff, God-fearing minister and seedy bar filled with a mix of cliché characters.
The aliens remain in the shadows for much of the film, something sinister in the background; thingies that are a cross between really big roaches and really big spiders. Despite their bug-eyed ugliness, they apparently are really smart. After all, they’ve built a ginormous space ship and an entire fleet of fighters, traveled light years across space and hold the copyright on some sort of bluish death ray!
If I could just time warp my way back to when I was a kid, I can imagine Cowboys and Aliens working really well as a Saturday morning double feature at the old Bradley Theater in downtown Columbus. All that would need to be done is zap the movie into two separate parts – a western and a sci-fi flick.
The whole blending thing might have worked if the filmmakers hadn’t lost touch with their sense of humor. The film takes itself a little too seriously. Even when the quiet stranger manages to race along on horseback next to one of the alien fighters, then jumps from horse to fighter and cripples the craft, no one is winking at the camera.
The final big battle – despite the good guys essentially tossing rocks against a force of bad guys with hi-tech howitzers – ends predictably. Worse, it was pretty clear before the fighting began who would be walking away from the battlefield and who was going to be zapped.
My greatest fear is that Cowboys and Aliens will do well enough at the box office that a few years down the road we’ll be hearing about a sequel – Cowboys and Aliens: The Musical! Now that’s a flick I’d pay not to see.