BATTLE OF THE B-MOVIES; No Huge Surprises in the Daniel Craig-Harrison Ford, Cross-Genre, Save-the-World Adventure -- but There Is Fun to Be Had FILM OF THE WEEK

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sexton

COWBOYS & ALIENS Cert 12A, 118 mins ***

[bar] HINK we can guess the way this pitch conference went. Alien v Predator? Already been done. Vampires v Werewolves? One of those most weeks. How about Nazis v Dinosaurs then? No? Zombies v the Mafia? Maybe, maybe. Snakes versus that lot from Sex and the City? Dream on. I know -- Cowboys v Aliens? Hey hey! And here, with a subtle change of the versus to a more comprehensive ampersand, is that very film, living up to its billing handsomely.

Once these B-movies were so badly made you could see the plasticine and the matchsticks that had gone into the special effects. Not any more. Now the special effects deliver as never before. Scaly aliens look if anything slightly more solid and plausible than many human mummers. Some film-goers find this new facility adds nothing to their enjoyment and preferred it when the effects were a bit crap. But that's just nostalgia gone wrong. The technology delivers. Whatever can be dreamed can now be realised.

The problem is that these possibilities reveal all the more clearly that very few designers can imagine monsters with any originality. Aliens are, in fact, now highly conventional, far too many of them deriving from HR Giger's brilliant creation for the original Alien, plus a tinge of the original Predator that Arnie did for so conclusively. The lizardy things in Cowboys & Aliens are clearly descended from an unholy marriage between those top critters, with a few enhancements, like an unfolding chest from which nasty hands emerge. Never mind. They serve their purpose, which is to be an enemy to humankind that we can be unashamedly glad to see violently dispatched by the cowboys, since they have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Once this role could be taken by Red Indians. Not so much any more. In this film, the cowboys and Native Americans, after initial difficulties, come together to make common cause against their joint enemy. So that's all right and proper.

If you like Daniel Craig, 43, as many discriminating people do, you're in for a treat here. He's our hero, Jake Lonergan -- super tough, a man of almost as few words as Clint in his heyday and armed with even more muscle and leather. It's 1875, New Mexico Territory. …