Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau, opens with that old Western staple, the Man Of Few Words, alone in the wilderness. This particular Man Of Few Words is called Jake Lonergan, is played by Daniel Craig, and has no idea how he got way out there in the back of beyond, still less what this weird bracelet thing on his arm is all about. He's obviously one of the titular cowboys, and seems to be the subject of a bout of probably alien-related amnesia. So all we have to do now is wait for the aliens to show up and bring the fight, right? Sadly, most of the films best moments occur before that happens.
Lest you're imagining Indiana Jones with tentacles instead of a whip, or Han Solo bursting out of somebody's chest with a ready quip, we should say from the get go that no aliens are played by the other lead-billed star, Harrison Ford. Ford plays Woodrow Dolarhyde, another Man Of Few Words, who quickly enacts another tradition of the old West, a fearsome grump-off, against Daniel Craig's character. The two attempt to out-grump each other from the moment they meet. Who will be crowned the surliest? Who's the biggest crosspatch? Who needs to sit on the naughty step until he can play nicely? We never really find out, because those darned aliens ruin what for a moment there threatened to be an entertaining Western throwback.
These aliens, which resemble the 'prawn' creatures of District 9, never really convince. Their motives are less alien, more piratical (there's gold in them thar hills, apparently). They ought to be tough, yet one sniff of the local Native Americans' bows 'n' arrows routine and they're less unidentified flying object, more dropping like flies. And, crucially, we should believe our heroes are credibly in danger, something that is absolutely never the case - you feel that one glower from Butch Crankyface and the Cantankerous Kid and the space invaders would flutter whatever passes for eyelids in their species and be on their merry way, pardner.