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Cowboys and Aliens

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I wonder what the director of Cowboys and Aliens has against Daniel Craig's forehead, or, his eyebrows? But, then again, I wonder what the director has against coherence, soap, Westerns, American movies, Apache Indians, aliens, or Vice President Biden?

We all know and acknowledge that Joe Biden is the most Onion-friendly politician of our lifetime and possesses the most dazzling smile on the planet. A foot of new snow on Ajax, pure white in the Aspen sunlight, is sooty slush compared to Joe's improbable chompers. At his public appearances aides hand out sunglasses lest eye damage result when he goes beyond a grin to display the work of teams of BriteSmile technicians. Of all the CGI wizardry on display from the boffins who made C&A nothing dazzles more than Olivia Wilde's beyond-Bidenean teeth. Yes, more dazzling than the alien hand thingies that spring from their Alien-shout-out chests. More dazzling than the creepy upside-down riverboat with water cascading from above waiting for Harry Dean Stanton to call 'Jonesy' Alien shout out... part deux.

Her whiter-than-white teeth caused Biden boosters in the theater to recoil in horror at this blot on Joe's enamel escutcheon. "We thought Hollywood was our friend," they moaned... "first Atlas Shrugged, and now this?" they keened.

Almost as miraculous are the whites of Olivia Wilde's eyes in the same scene. Had the British soldiers' eyes been that white before Bunker Hill, the American colonists could have begun firing as they left Fenway Park.

Cowboys and Aliens is a mess on so many levels: improbable casting, ridiculous wardrobe choices, plot (see below), rampant kumbaya-ism, lame homages, and a screenplay only a screenwriter's mother could like.

James Bond, the normally interesting Daniel Craig, assumes the classic The Man with No Name role as The Man with No Memory/Forehead/Eyebrows/Razor with little success. His Western star turn is not helped by the decision to place a cowboy hat on his cabeza that is pulled so low that any close up consists of chin, cheeks, eyes and hat. That's it.

All the better, perhaps, to concentrate on his smoldering blue eyes, which do smolder, but only intermittently. A known beefcake, he drew multi-gender gasps as he stalked away from the camera in revealing Village-People-era leather chaps. The PG-13 rating ensures cloth between buttock and audience but, some in the audience hope, no doubt, for a Director's 'cut.'

As my friend Mark Doyle is apt to say, recounting an episode from his Clinton years, a, uh, sidebar:

The Plot: a super alien race, living in a galaxy far far away, has reacted to G. Gordon Liddy's Buy Gold! commercials and sent an expedition to corner the market. I guess there's an intergalactic recession going on as well, with the Uni-Euro is as rocky as the dollar. They get their ETA mixed up with all the light years involved and miss our drop-dead debt date and new gold future highs by a hundred and forty years. It being 1870 or so, rather than having to deal alien a mano with G. Gordon, they're faced with Cowboys and Indians and a lovable pooch. C&A's aliens have no death beams or ray guns, but use weird hi-tech lariats and sharp claws as weapons while dabbling in the ho-hum anal probing of human captives all aliens seem so fixated on.

Between victims being hoisted spaceward in reverse bungee jumps, weird optics suggesting repressed memories, father-son issues, white-Indian issues, Antietam, and a gift knife that LOOMS LARGE, the plot thickens into thin gruel.

C&A reminds that there are two kinds of Westerns: clean and dirty. Classic westerns are clean: a bit of grime and dust but the actors and landscapes are not defined by the lack of Motel 6s and shampoo: think Shane and the Coen Bros. True Grit (the title defines what I'm referring to). And, then movies like C&A and anything by Sergio Leone: the Old West's cleanliness problems triumphant. Dust, dirt and sweat stained shirts and hats.

Thank goodness my tickets were not for Odorama version playing in the theater next door, but I caught a whiff of prairie dog as I walked past.

Even in the movie's first moments, Daniel Craig makes Pig Pen, from the classic Peanuts comic strips, seem positively Giorgio Armani-ish in comparison. He only lacks the constant trail of dust that is Pig Pen's signature look. There's also a bandit gang in the movie who seem to have wandered over from the set of Blood Meridian. To a man, they are all grimly grimy, stringy filthy hair on their heads and drooping from the bloody, flyblown scalps tied to their saddles, matted beards, funny hats and all. Which is another key differentiator in Westerns: funny looking hats. Classic Westerns: Stetsons and Cavalry hats. C&A and new wave westerns, hatters from hell: stove pipes, floppy shapeless somethings, and, on Daniel Craig: anti-forehead wear.

I know there are lots of exceptions to classical Westerns/classical hattery rule, but, I'm on a roll here... don't get me started on the universal rule of Great Westerns/how pistols are worn.

There is another major star of the movie: our beloved Jack Ryan, Indiana Jones, Dr. Richard Kimble, Han Solo... none other than the now-uber-grizzled Harrison Ford. I should note that all the male characters, with the exception of the Apaches, are grizzled. I think I noticed fashionable two-dayers even on the aliens. Prepare yourself ladies, if you take your significant other, especially if he sports a de rigueur chic almost-beard, to C&A, you are giving free license to a major escalation in general scruffiness.

But, I digress.

Mr. Ford gives us his four well-loved facial expressions throughout the movie, usually all four within the time period of a NBA shot clock. The only missing Fordian set piece is his famous leap from an explosion with one hand in front of his face and his familiar open-mouthed rictus. Other than that, Harrison-philes can check off his acting oeuvre: surprise, smirk, fury, glower, and repeat.

Except at the very end of C&A, when a cleaned-up Ford, in semiformal cowboy wear (a shout out to my friend Roger Ebert) complete with oddly banded cowboy hat, positively beams as he tries to take Daniel Craig's hat off to uncover his rumored forehead and eyebrows and is shot dead by Deadly Dan for his temerity.

No, not really.

But, such a conclusion might have made this movie more interesting. In C&A, teams of screenwriters, obviously working in isolation from each other (there's a cut-and-paste vibe to the run of the scenes), funded to the tune of our national debt, with a mandate that sweat and grime suggests verisimilitude, trying to convince us that Apache lances are weapons grade technology against alien hordes, offer us two hours of foreheadless dreck.

No Oscars for this one, but, I predict Vice President Biden will ask that Olivia's teeth be darkened for the DVD release. I will further predict that young women, repulsed by the grizzle, will embrace tradition, and demand a clean shave before dancing cheek to cheek with their inamoratos. And, last but not least, I predict that Daniel Craig will be riding a Maserati rather than a mare when next we see him, forehead, eyebrows and all up on the big screen.