Sunday, 31 July 2011

On the Road: Friends & Aliens

A couple more trips to the cinema here in Los Angeles this week, catching up with films that are screening to the press in London this week. First up is the romantic-comedy Friends With Benefits, starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as professional colleagues who decide to have a non-emotional sexual friendship. No prizes for guessing where this story is heading, and it's a little disappointing that such a smart, witty script can't break away from the cliches it's otherwise setting out to undermine.

But the characters are thoroughly enjoyable - apart from a few goofy elements such as Timberlake's inability to add two numbers together. The chemistry between the two is terrific, and the supporting cast is packed with hilarious cameos and lively performances from favourite actors like Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins, who unsurprisingly breathe life into people who would be yawn-worthy stereotypes in a lesser film. It's also sharply well shot and edited, and even with the obvious plot manages to win us over in the end.

The strange thing about this week's action blockbuster release Cowboys & Aliens is that it's not actually an action blockbuster. It's essentially a traditional Western adventure, with a few aliens thrown in to spice up the plot. Fortunately, it has Daniel Craig in the central role, muscling his way through the drama with brooding emotion and hard physicality, plus Harrison Ford in snarky Han Solo mode, being gruff and grumpy or dismissive and sarcastic as needed.

Like a standard Western, the film involves a group of men (plus the improbably hot Olivia Wilde) searching for kidnapped family members and encountering bandits and marauding native Americans along the road. The one twist is that the kidnappers are from another planet, bent on stealing Earth's resources and so on. It's great fun to watch these fairly standard Wild West characters face up to this kind of threat, even if the climactic action scenes are a little too forced to be truly exhilarating. But it's nicely directed by Jon Favreau with plenty of understated charm thrown in along the way.


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