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Cowboys & Aliens
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Western/sci-fi hybrid will definitely appeal to boys and fans of the two stars -- the new Bond (Daniel Craig) and the former Indy (Harrison Ford) -- but there are some violent scenes that may be too intense for tweens. Although it's light on romance -- just a couple of kisses and a few references to a prostitute -- the movie is heavy with explosive action (shootings, stabbings, and gruesome aliens) and has a high body count. Language includes words like "s--t" and "damn," and alcohol consumption is fairly high, considering that the cowboys spend most of their downtime drinking in a saloon. Despite a generally positive message about people banding together to fight a common enemy, the movie's violence can be overwhelming.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel, COWBOYS & ALIENS opens with an unnamed man (Daniel Craig) sitting in the desert with a mysterious bracelet cuffed to his wrist. After felling three men who think he's good for bounty, the lone cowboy appears in a sleepy 19th-century Arizona town, where he encounters a kind preacher (Clancy Brown) and enrages Percy (Paul Dano), a drunken bully who's the son of local cattleman Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). When the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) discovers that Craig is actually Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal, he arrests him. Then aliens attack the town and kidnap many residents -- including Percy, the sheriff, and the saloon owner's wife. To stop the invasion, Jake teams up with Dolarhyde; his Native American deputy, Nat (Adam Beach); the sheriff's grandson, Emmett (Noah Ringer); Doc (Sam Rockwell), the barman; and Ella (Olivia Wilde), a beautiful, gun-toting woman who knows more about the aliens than anyone else.
Is it any good?
Craig buzzes with a simmering intensity that can turn into a swashbuckling boil at any moment. With his sharp features and broad shoulders, he transforms from brooding loner into a relentless warrior every single time he's threatened -- from the opening scene to the last alien he dispatches. But as promising as the movie starts -- with Craig's amnesiac, wounded gunslinger stealing clothes (including tight-fitting leather chaps) off his rivals and galloping into town -- the middle is a muddle of alien carnage and incomplete plot development that leaves you dissatisfied no matter how exciting it is to watch Craig and Ford share the screen.
Ford, no longer dashing and young, is now the perfect curmudgeon; his Dolarhyde is a meanie with a soft spot for his ne'er-do-well son. Beach is earnest as Ford's underappreciated charge-turned-employee, but the Native American subplot in the second half feels a bit Dances with Wolves without any heart. Wilde is appropriately gorgeous as the enigmatic Ella, but her romance with Jake is far too predictable. If director Jon Favreau had paid as much attention to the story as he did the fighting sequences, Cowboys & Aliens could have been a milestone instead of just another passably cool summer movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the merging of the two genres. Which aspect worked better -- the Western or the sci-fi parts?
How was the violence handled in the movie? Was there too much, or was it necessary to the story?
When you see actors in a movie, do you think about the other parts they've played in the past? How does that affect the way you react to them and their actions?
- In theaters: July 29, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2011
- Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
- Director: Jon Favreau
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.