I went to see the new movie Cowboys and Aliens after work today. I knew it was going to be cool, but I had no idea it was so cool. From the trailer, I gathered that it featured Sam Rockwell (of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), who is cool; Daniel Craig (of the latest James Bond movies), who is cooler; and Harrison Ford (of, like, practically every Harrison Ford movie ever made), the coolest of them all.
But the previews hardly prepared me for the opening credits, in which I saw a much longer list of names from the mean streets of inner-city Coolsville: Keith Carradine (of Deadwood), Paul Dano (of There Will Be Blood), Adam Beach (of Windtalker), Walton Goggins (lately "Boyd Crowder" in TV's Justified), David O'Hara (of The District and Braveheart, and lately featured as Harry Potter in disguise), and by no means least, Clancy Brown (I don't know where to begin--Starship Troopers, Highlander, Pathfinder, The Shawshank Redemption--the guy is studliness incarnate). And that's only some of the coolness the cast of this sci-fi western brings to the screen; plus, in the hot mama department, there is Olivia Wilde of TV's House.
So. Let the coolness of the cast sink in. Then try to comprehend the fact that, in spite of the cosmically high expectations such a cast would raise for a film in which Old West bad guys, townspeople, and Indians face off against a bunch of freakishly nasty, gold-rasslin' spacemen... the film does not disappoint. Not at all. It meets and exceeds all expectations of a scary, thrilling, weird, sometimes funny, occasionally sexy, and super-super-super cool guy movie.
Craig plays the guy who wakes up in the desert with a strange wound in his gut, a strange metal thing clamped around his wrist, and a strange lack of memory of who he is or what has happened to him. Before he says a word, he takes down three armed men, rides into town, meets the local preacher (Brown), gets cross-wise to the local cattleman/crime lord (Ford) via his spoiled, cowardly son (Dano), drops by the local tavern (run by Rockwell), attracts the notice of the local extraterrestrial in human form (Wilde), and gets arrested by the local sheriff (Carradine).
Things aren't looking too good for Craig's character when he gets fingered as the ringleader of a band of stagecoach-robbing outlaws whose last known crimes were the theft of Ford's gold and the alleged murder of an alleged prostitute, none of which he remembers doing. They're about to send him up the river when, with perfect timing, the aliens show up in funky little single-seater jets and start roping people like steers at a rodeo. Craig discovers that the metal thing on his wrist is an alien weapon that can blast holes in things (like the side of the jail wagon he's locked in) and blow aircraft out of the sky. And from then on he's pretty much the hero, except when he isn't.
The townsfolk who survive the alien attack set out on the trail of the alien who survived Craig's counterattack. Their mission: to get their shanghaied loved ones back before the aliens hack them up in a series of cruel experiments. They're really cuddly aliens, though, sort of like a cross between the creatures in the Alien and Predator movies, with a touch of those critters in Beastmaster who could dissolve you down to your clean, white bones just by hugging you. Some bandits (Craig's old gang, including O'Hara and Goggins) get involved, as do some Apache warriors (including the bad guy from Apocalypto); Adam Beach (playing a character I haven't mentioned yet) gets you all misty-eyed, first with a speech about Ford's character and then with a touching death scene; the good guys flush the goons out of their lair with a bundle of dynamite, and they settle things the Wild West Way... only, with a side-helping of daring doings inside the creepy alien ship.
It all ends the way guy movies are required, by the California Legal Code, to end: with a big orange fireball, a booze-soaked shindig, and a wistful farewell in which the hero rides off into the sunset alone. And I haven't even mentioned the dog. Or the little kid. Or the upside-down steamboat in the middle of the desert. Sigh.... I'm so glad they still make movies like this. And to think we have director Jon Favreau (a.k.a. the fat kid from Rudy) to thank for it!