It’s a cross between True Grit and War of the Worlds—with sequences of fine acting and great special effects worthy of either movie.
Why, then, is Cowboys and Aliens such a failure?
The answer is that the alien genre was simply grafted onto a western, heavy handedly. The obvious way such a hybridization could have worked was as a comedy, which could have played the incongruities to good effect. But this is not a funny movie.
To be sure, there are passages that could have been funny—like one where a cattle rustler is being torturously interrogated by a cattle baron (Harrison Ford) who blames the hapless man for instances of cattle mutilation. (Savvy skeptics will know this is typically the work of predators and scavengers but frequently attributed to extraterrestrials.) Funny? Could’ve been—but not in this movie.
In short, Cowboys and Aliens is neither fish nor fowl, although the concept is fishy and we cry foul at the result.
Rating: one wooden nickel (out of four)