Great title, great stars, bland result

Film
COWBOYS & ALIENS
Cert: 12A

IT’S the best film title since Snakes on a Plane, and this would-be blockbuster also has two huge stars – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford – on good form.

Craig is especially memorable, riding into the dusty town of Absolution with no name, a mysterious shackle on his wrist, and then knocking the spurs off anyone who crosses him. Ford is having fun too, playing something close to a villain as Colonel Dolarhyde, a Civil War veteran who holds the reins of Absolution as tight as his gold.

A solid supporting cast, stunning Western scenery and malefic alien gizmos all add to the mix, but mashed together they end up tasting bland. Cross-genre interplay can work brilliantly in books like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but here the game falls flat, and the result is less than the sum of its contributing parts. The script carries the wounds of writing-by-committee, the aliens are neither arrestingly original nor especially terrifying and the pacing is torn between the steady jog-trot of a cowboy epic and the hammering intensity of an alien invasion movie.

The playfulness promised in that magnificent title is also missing. Ironman director Jon Favreau has decided to play the film as straight as possible, but its premise is too silly and its dialogue and plotting too weak to support that level of emotional engagement. When we break out the popcorn for two hours of 007 and Han Solo dressed in chaps fending off bug-eyed monsters with their six-shooters, we expect something a bit closer to Back to the Future III than Shane.

It’s not a total washout: you get plenty of both cowboys and aliens; Craig takes his shirt off; there’s even a dog. Just don’t expect to find the director’s tongue anywhere near his cheek – it should be.

Marc Sidwell

THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE
Cert: 15

TO say that this is, on balance, better than Kevin & Perry Go Large and Ali G In Da House is no ringing endorsement. It simply means that, in the woeful tradition of British sitcoms that fall flat in their big screen adaptations, it has a bit more to offer than its most recent predecessors.

For the uninitiated, the Inbetweeners is the Channel 4 comedy that exposed the swirling humiliations and frustrations of teenage life through the misadventures of four hapless lads.

In an act of almost wilful predictability the filmmakers send the lads on a dodgy holiday – a plotline they clearly thought On the Buses, Kevin & Perry, Mr Bean and the godforsaken Are You Being Served film had yet to bleed dry. Wrong.

The chaps have pink T-shirts with “Pussy Patrol” written on them. They chase “clunge”, in the form of an unlikely quartet of up-for-it girls. They mess up.

Thankfully, the strong performances of the stars and the tone of wry, witty disdain that drove the TV programme have survived, and some comic setpieces achieve lift-off. But that isn’t enough to make up for a tiresome wet fish of a film and the sense of another TV series vandalised by the vanity of its makers.

Timothy Barber

THE GUARD
Cert: 18

Lovely stuff, this, starring two of the best film actors around. Brendan Gleeson is the titular small-town Irish cop, a dissolute, filthy-mouthed veteran who finds himself paired with Don Cheadle’s by-the-book FBI agent in the investigation of a murder.

Written and directed by Irish writer John Michael McDonagh, this gleefully disgraceful film is chock full of funny lines, strong characterisations and absurd situations. The buddy-buddy mismatch of Gleeson and Cheadle may not be original, but it’s very effective, and more than compensates for the sometimes uneven plotting.

TB