Is an"Our plane is crashing, let's bang" romance appealing? If not, you may want to dodge this one.
When someone told me that Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig were going to be in a movie with the girl who played a lesbian on The OC (that's Olivia Wilde for the uninformed), I said, "Yes, please." When they told me that the guy who played the vow-of-silence son in Little Miss Sunshine (Paul Dano) was going to be involved, my ears perked up even further. And when those same people told me that the film would be helmed by Iron Man director Jon Favreau and would feature a ragtag band of cowboys fighting off a swarm of evil aliens, it was almost too much awesomeness to take. Like dipping a corndog in molten white chocolate, dusting it with Fun Dip and glazing it in teriyaki, it was almost too good. But I happily sat through a screening and can honestly say that it's as good of a movie with the title Cowboys & Aliens as it's possible to make.
Sci-fi and Westerns are arguably the two most American forms of cinema, and this movie combines these genres. The former generally incorporates elements of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey; a protagonist's odyssey from adolescence to adulthood and beyond. The latter generally features a mysterious anti-hero looking for redemption. The quintessentially American character simultaneously yearns for personal growth and second chances. A nifty plot device involving amnesia allows Daniel Craig's Jake Lonergan to play both the Jesus and Judas characters. But enough with the Film 101. Harrison Ford, in the gruff "get off my plane" portion of his career, shines as a cowboy who doesn't plan on doing a lick of atoning. Sam Rockwell plays a greenhorn barkeep looking to make a new life for himself. And Olivia Wilde's character largely defies explanation in the same way her bosoms defy gravity. All in all, the tropes of the two American-est film genres are mashed together in a way that foreign audiences are sure to love (or want to kill us for, yay!) If you like popcorn movies, I'd recommend seeing it. But...I almost forgot. The ladies want to know: Is it a date movie?
There are four criteria that make a date movie, although it's possible for an overabundance of one to make up for lack of another.
1) Is it romantic? Daniel Craig's character is motivated to find out what happened to a woman he mainly knows through a remarkably good photograph and a hazy memory (remember that amnesia thing?) But along the way, he takes an interest in Olivia Wilde's Ella in more of a "our plane is about to crash, so let's bang" sort of way than anything to sigh over. This is not a romantic film.
2) Is it endearing? Do you really care about any of the characters? Hmm. Sorta. Sons and fathers reunite. Outlaws, decent townfolk and Native Americans put aside their differences to kick some green-faced ass. But the characters are largely tropes of the Western genre and, with the exception of Daniel Craig and a little orphan boy, most are expendable.
3) Is it funny? There are a few moments where Walton Goggins, Sam Rockwell and Harrison Ford break dramatic tension with a one-liner. A few instances of come-uppance (sometimes via strikes to the groin) provide guffaws, even if internal. A few of the genre-bending moments are amusing in a meta sense, but the levity is light and infrequent.
4) Is it entertaining? Absolutely. I didn't look at my watch once during the movie. The pacing was excellent and the subplots were not at all distracting. For the most part, none of the leads were phoning it in. While there was never any doubt about the outcome, there were a couple of twists and turns thrown in to keep us from looking at our phones. The stunts were great and not too CGI-y. So what if some of the plot was borrowed from Battlefield Earth? At least there was not a single Jar-Jar Binks sighting. This movie will absolutely crush it overseas.
So is Cowboys & Aliens a date movie? Well, the movie will not inspire a guy to say, "I love you" for the first time. Nor will it horn a couple up to the point that they have to do it in the car lest their groins explode. And there's probably not a single line extra-quotable line of dialogue. But the movie can take your mind off things, and if you happen to make out in the back row for a few minutes, you won't be totally lost when the sesh ends. All things considered, I would only consider this a date movie if you're a sci-fi loving couple, or just one that likes seeing all the latest flicks. Not a great idea for a first, second or even eighth date.
Is your guy dragging you to see Cowboys & Aliens? Are you excited about it?