Cowboys & Aliens and Crazy, Stupid, Love

Daniel Craig battles aliens, Steve Carell wins the weekend.


Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens is the highest of high concepts. Its entire premise is contained in its title, which, in the classic manner, could be scribbled on the back of a postcard. Unfortunately, the filmmakers have mailed that postcard off to nowhere.

Remarkably, it required six writers (and 16 producers, among them Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard) to turn a slim 2006 graphic novel into a movie. The book, by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Fred Van Lente, and Andrew Foley, takes an interesting narrative stance, setting up an alien invasion of the Old West in 1873 as a mirror of the earlier invasion of North America by European settlers. For some reason—presumably time constraint—the movie has ditched this element of the story. Which leaves us with, well, cowboys and aliens.

The picture begins with a man named Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up bruised and wounded in some parched canyon lands. An intricate metal cuff is affixed to his left wrist, and he's also carrying a photograph of a woman he doesn't know. But then he doesn't know his own name, either. When three surly lowlifes approach on horseback, Jake, being Daniel Craig, overwhelms them in a spasm of furious butt-kicking. He makes his way to a shabby mining town that has fallen on hard times (the gold ran out). After a violent encounter with a gun-waving punk named Percy (Paul Dano), Jake draws the attention of both a mysterious young woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) and the town sheriff (Keith Carradine), who recognizes Jake from a wanted poster and tosses him in jail. Then Percy's angry father, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the local cattle baron, arrives in search of the man who whupped his no-good son…among other things I'll not go into.

While all of these characters are contentiously interacting, a big spaceship cruises in over the mountains and unleashes alien fighter planes that begin strafing the town and lassoing (!) its inhabitants for transport back to the mothership for more intimate examination. Before long, the townsfolk have allied themselves with an Apache warrior tribe to ward off the extraterrestrial attackers. And so forth.

Director Jon Favreau seems hobbled by the necessity of making two different sorts of movie here. One is an old-fashioned western, with all the familiar signifiers—colorful cowpokes (best among them Walton Goggins, of Justified), barroom showdowns, and a hero who's even more grim of lip and squinty of eye than Clint Eastwood ever was. There's also one of those shamanistic Indian rituals, this time enabling Jake to remember who he is (with the help of a cute CGI hummingbird, which struck me as sort of odd). Favreau does a nice job of getting all the Old West atmosphere right, but there's nothing new about it; and viewers who come for the alien action may feel that the cowboy stuff is just marking time.

The digital aliens, who are about 10 feet tall and suitably unlovely, are expertly embedded in the live action, which is complex and abundant. (In this respect the movie somewhat resembles District 9.) But the interstellar beasties themselves will be un-startling to anyone familiar with the Alien and Predator films. In addition, the reason for their determination to conquer the Earth (they're gold miners too!) is a little weak; and the related mystery of Ella is never all that mysterious. ("I'm from a different place," she finally explains.)

Some good actors are wasted here, chiefly Sam Rockwell as a timorous saloon-keeper. Harrison Ford deploys his rote scowl and crooked smile to routine effect, and Daniel Craig spends a little too much time glowering wordlessly from beneath a rather droopy Stetson. And while the dialogue's generally fine, there is an occasional clunk. ("You can control it with your mind. Stop thinking.")

Mainly, though, the movie is undone by its divided intentions. The western and the alien-action elements are adequate for their genres, but neither would stand alone as a particularly engrossing film. Given its title, you'd expect the picture to be a lot of fun. The most surprising thing about it is that you'd be wrong.       

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Before it stumbles into a bit of narrative miscalculation toward the end, Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the year's funniest pictures, cleverly structured, perfectly paced (for the most part), and enlivened by a cast that's pretty well unimprovable.

Steve Carell is Cal, a California suburbanite long and happily married to his high-school sweetheart, Emily (Julianna Moore). Driving in their car one night, out of nowhere, Emily tells Steve that she has slept with an amorous coworker (Kevin Bacon), and that she wants a divorce. Cal is devastated, but he dutifully moves out of the house they share with their two kids and into a soulless bachelor apartment. Beset by loneliness, he makes a few feeble attempts to pick up women at an upscale singles bar. His hilarious lack of success at this draws the attention of an observant pickup artist named Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is strictly into one-night stands—actual romance is never on his menu—and he volunteers to give Cal a studly makeover, starting with his clothes ("Be better than the Gap") and especially his footwear. ("Are you in a fraternity?" he asks, checking out his new protégé's puffed-up Nikes.)

Soon Cal is scoring—most uproariously with a love-starved high-school teacher named Kate (Marisa Tomei). Meanwhile, back at Cal's former home, his 13-year-old son (Jonah Bobo) is lusting after the family babysitter, an endearingly gangly 17-year-old named Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). But Jessica is in turn crushing on Cal, who's still making occasional household visits. At the same time, a young law student named Hannah (Emma Stone, sharp as always) is slowly submitting to the come-ons of the chick-magnet Jacob, who for the first time is feeling the stirrings of something other than lust, in a place other than his pants.

The movie is an exuberant roundelay of misfiring desires. Carell is at his most eloquently reactive in the midst of the nonstop zingers whizzing by all around him. Up-and-comer Tipton has the awkward charm of a startled woodland creature; Tomei has a fabulously scabrous meltdown scene; and Gosling is once again effortlessly charismatic.

There's a big reveal near the end of the picture that seemed to me to come out of nowhere, and a scene involving some photographs that's a little queasy (as if the characters had never heard of Internet photo-posting). But these are quibbles, and the movie in its entirety rises above them. As a weekend alternative to, oh, Cowboys & Aliens, I'd say this one's the way to go.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be published in November by St. Martin's Press.

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  1. Cowboys & Aliens and Crazy, Stupid, Love

    Who the hell has time to see two movies at the same time?

  2. The western and the alien-action elements are adequate for their genres, but neither would stand alone as a particularly engrossing film. Given its title, you’d expect the picture to be a lot of fun. The most surprising thing about it is that you’d be wrong.

    Oh shit. Well, I might as well just stay home, because I will surely not go out to see a Steve Carell movie.

    1. ha, that’s what I was thinking.

      1. to be more specific – when I heard KL mention that spielberg was involved i knew that everything he was about to say would be correct.

    2. I guess I’ll go see Captain America again.

  3. Her attractiveness aside, I am actually a big fan of Emma Stone and will thus happily see Crazy,Stupid,Love with a female companion.

    1. Even Emma Stone cannot make a Steve Carrell movie watchable.

      1. Why is everyone hating on Steve Carrell? He was good in the Forty Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine.

        Yes he can be annoying as his asshole Michael Scott character (I’ve never understood the appeal of The Office), but he’s watchable when he plays a credible human being which I assume is the case here.

        1. Because he’s a one-note bore who appears in many of the films of another one-note bore, Judd Apatow. Because he’s always “hapless Steve Carrell”.

          Yes, he was good in Little Miss Sunshine; everyone was good in that. Because it wasn’t directed by a one-note bore.

          1. So you admit that Carell has talent with the proper writing, but not when he’s in standard rom-com form? Okay, but that’s more a critique of the genre rather than the actor. I don’t fault him for being credible as a hapless nice-guy since that’s just his niche.

            And again, he’s sharing the screen with Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Ryan Gosling, all talented people that seem impeccably cast here.

            1. Episiarch|7.28.11 @ 7:05PM|#
              Because he’s a one-note bore

              Oh my.

            2. You use the words “talented” and “impeccably” a lot more easily than I do, it seems.

              So you admit that Carell has talent with the proper writing, but not when he’s in standard rom-com form?

              No, I’m saying that good directors can often get surprisingly good performances out of normally mediocre actors.

              Carrell just isn’t very talented. He somehow lucked into being Apatow’s guy.

              1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

                1. We pull the strings and the (sock)puppets dance!!!

              2. Carrell just isn’t very talented. He somehow lucked into being Apatow’s guy.

                You’re typically not going to see brazenly masculine leading men (Cary Grant/Clark Gable types) as sympathetic protagonists in Jewish comedies anymore–the “underdog” concept is far too embedded in the cultural psyche. Carrell and the rest of the Apatow Actor’s Mafia are a reflection of his own neurotic, self-conscious misfit personality, which is why they keep doing project after project together. I mean, would actors like Jonah Hill or Jason Segal even have a career if it wasn’t for Apatow? Only if they managed to weasel their way into Adam Sandler’s own incestuous professional circle.

                1. Everything you say is correct, but I in no way expected to see “brazenly masculine leading men” in Apatow’s films; just talented comedians would be nice. But, considering Apatow is untalented, I guess one wouldn’t expect talented comedians to hang around him.

      2. This, Carrell is just a fucking idiot.

      3. I liked Evan Almighty.


      4. I saw The Help at a sneak back in March. It’s very likely going to be a big hit, so I think Emma will do better with that, as the lead.

      5. nd oliva wilde makes anything watchable

        1. she didn’t help “The Next 3 Days”

  4. I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.

    1. They are.

  5. The wife really, really wants to see Cowboys & Aliens, and I am really, really dreading making her happy by going with her.

    I am going to demand some freaky shit to make up for this.

    1. Ass-sex, and this time, no whining and crying when it start to “hurt.”

      1. If Russia attacks Turkey from the rear, will Greece help?

        1. Will Greece help who?

        2. Maybe, but Kentucky definitely will!

      2. Read my mind, Achtung, read my mind.

  6. not a fan of Favreau.

  7. Driving in their car one night, out of nowhere, Emily tells Steve that she has slept with an amorous coworker (Kevin Bacon), and that she wants a divorce. Cal is devastated, but he dutifully moves out of the house they share with their two kids and into a soulless bachelor apartment.

    She cheats and he moves out?! Is this how it happens in the real world? Or just in a Hollywood fantabulist’s fevered imagination?

    Anyway, keep ’em coming, Loder.

    1. It’s his fault she cheated because he wasn’t satisfying her needs. Naturally, he should move out and continue to support her.

      Why’s that hard to understand?

    2. She cheats and he moves out?! Is this how it happens in the real world?

      Sometimes, yeah.

  8. Oh come on, don’t tell me Cowboys sucked?!!

    1. You’re joking, I assume, since I already knew it would be atrociously boring, being directed by Jon Favreau and all.

      1. No, ain’t joking. I thought it would be pretty cool. Did Favreau direct that? I thought the first Iron Man was ok.

        1. Yeah, exactly: Iron Man was “ok”. Bland, boring, unexceptional. Not terrible, just…meh. That’s what all his work is like.

      2. I don’t know…I liked ELF.

        1. This has to be a spoof. Nobody liked Elf. I consider Elf to be the worst movie ever made.

          1. worst movie ever made? that bar was set by Battlefield:Earth

            1. Hope Floats retains this distinction

  9. And I thought crazy, stupid, love was the review of Cowboys & Aliens.

  10. How about we combine both concepts into one film? We can call it “Crazy, Stupid, Cowboys and Aliens in Love”.

    1. love it. lots of sequel potential

      1. Brokeback Mountian II: Revenge of Ennis and Jack

        A Serious Man, I think someone from the San Fernando Valley will be calling you about the naming rights for a project they are working on.

  11. Where’s the review for Smurfs?



    2. Polling 9% at Rotten Tomatoes right now.

      1. Are we surprised? The very concept is a fucking abomination.

  12. AWESOM-O: Um, okay. How about this? Adam Sandler is like, in love with some girl, but then it turns out that the girl is actually a golden retriever, or something.
    Studio Executive #1: Oh, perfect!
    Studio Executive #2: We’ll call it Puppy Love!

  13. I guess lots of chicks think Ryan Gosling is hot or something but just… no. I fucking hated The Fucking Notebook and he just looks like a huge dork in general. When I saw the preview for Crazy Stupid Love I knew I couldn’t stomach 2 hours of plot resting on his supposed hotness.

    *Just occurred to me why the irrational hate: before he was shitty in The Shitty Notebook, he was on a terrible show from my childhood called Breaker High. I hope no one else is unfortunate enough to remember it.

    1. Try “Blue Valentine”…

      1. As long as it doesn’t require the suspension of disbelief in Gosling’s nonexistent dreaminess, I’m sure I will like it.

    2. He’s funny-looking, and his beard is patchy and terrible. Your hatred is correct.

      1. YES. The sub-par beard is definitely part of it. It is unsettling.

      2. So she should hate you too, then?

        1. I am barrel-chested and virile, and my beard grows beards. You can just consider yourself PWND.

          1. PWND?

              1. PWND 🙁

                1. *two conical thumb-spikes up

          2. Errrmmm…what’s your phone number? 😛

    3. The photo of the director in his white basketball boots is quite awesome though.

      1. db, I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if they had any more detail, and apparently (unsurprisingly) it is super Canadian and was filmed entirely in Burnaby, BC, which is very close to where I grew up. So that explains A) how overplayed it was on Canadian TV, and B) the extreme dorkiness/awfulness.

        P.S. calling them “basketball boots” is adorable.

        1. Hey, I’m from New Zealand – we’re not very cool like that. 😉

    4. I see Marisa Tomei is in it, though. We can assume her boobage does its part to rescue the movie.

      1. Her boobage did nothing for the Lincoln Lawyer.

    5. From the preview, I thought he sounded/acted like someone from the cast of Jersey Shore. I was thinking “Do women really find that attractive?”, and concluded that ( inexplicably) they probably do. I’m a straight guy but I can appreciate some level of attractiveness in other men. I don’t get this one. That said, I enjoyed “Half Nelson” and some of his other movies. It’s not Gosling the person I didn’t get from this preview, but the character.

      1. I had to google him and no, he is not attractive. In fact, he’s pretty unremarkable looking.

        You know who’s hot? Michael Chiklis. Why doesn’t he get any hot leading man rolls?

  14. Completely off topic:

    Have been listening to Dennis Wilson’s album and damn if he isn’t remarkably similar to Roger Waters.

    1. Brian Wilson’s solo stuff is also quite enjoyable.

      1. BTW dude, I now have all 3 CD versions of Animals. Japanese SHM-CD version is the best.

        Since I got some Sennheiser HD600’s and a headphone amp/USB-DAC I’ve been listening to a bunch of Floyd and the 1st disc of The Wall takes it. Stunningly good (and damn well recorded).

        1. Are they mixed differently? I’m probably not enough of an audio nerd to be able to tell the difference.

          1. Yeah, there are differences in the mix. Original CD was a bit “shut in” sounding. Jap CD is more dynamic.

  15. When I read Sam Rockwell I thought of Sam Elliot, who is wasted in every movie he’s in.

    1. Have to agree–even in “Gettysburg” he gets shortchanged by being cast as Buford. As good of a job as Berenger did as Longstreet, Sam Elliot should have gotten that part instead. He just seems capable of doing more than being “Salty Tough Guy Second Banana.”

      1. I agree with you, although I tend to see him more as a salty, mystical oracle figure.

        1. Virgil Earpe was a mystical oracle?

          1. For me his bit parts in The Big Lebowski and Up In The Air resonate the most, though I’ll readily admit to not being a film buff.

            1. Loved him in “We Were Soldiers,” there was a CSM that deserved respect…. although his character was a bit cartoony.

              1. Loved him in “We Were Soldiers,” there was a CSM that deserved respect….

                “Can’t take any pictures from down there, sonny!”

                1. “Good morning Sarn’t Major.”

                  “How you know what kinda Goddam day it is?”

            2. You should see him in The Big Bang.

  16. Pop culture is very important.

  17. I hope we get a review for “The Changeup” next week. That looks edgy and unique.

  18. the reason for their determination to conquer the Earth (they’re gold miners too!) is a little weak

    Weak perhaps, but historically accurate: it is well known that the aliens WERE looking for gold, to create an atmospheric shield back on Nibiru (their home world).

    1. I see someone else read those books. They were AWESOME when I was an 11-year old nerd.

    2. But why were the aliens lassoing the people of the area? Did the movie ever reveal the reason? Were they for food or something? I missed that when I saw the movie, assuming that some reason was given.

  19. What chance do the aliens have, going up against James Bond AND Indiana Jones AND Hans Solo?

  20. Very interesting story I can`t stop until the way to go…

  21. Cowboys & Aliens is the highest of high concepts.yeah, i think it deserve to do

  22. I’ve enjoyed most fo what I’ve seen of Steve Carrell, including Michael Scott.


  23. Thank you to the usa. Complete unrealistic ideas is hard to follow and boring. Notice past movies(almost famous,idiot Van W films) teach others to be friends. Aleinated teens think on unhappy ideas. Come on be intelligent. Real storys are cool. Come on create guideing films. Revenge of the confused christiantites. God was coolest Coolest vehicle. Coolest clothes. Coolest hobbies and nonsunday competition sports. New genetic, a new person! rev 12:9kjvzond. Righteousness not selfright!! Choose focusing caring christians,martial art ,kid focused personality. Well thanks.

  24. ()Meant dont teach others friendship. And fight of the christiantites. Christian messages on national movies not part timer movies. Thou shall not steal is coolest. Come 60s organ christian music and folk electric. Righteoussness not self centeredness

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