If there's anything unique about the summer's latest cinematic overstimulus package, Cowboys & Aliens, it's the mash-up of two classic genres. To anyone confused by the vague title, think Cowboys and Indians, but make the cowboys the primitive natives and give the technological advantage to gold-seeking dinosaur-types from outer space. (And then add in some classic "Indians.") Past that, the latest effort from director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is all pretty familiar territory. Forgettable but enjoyable, it employs so many classic devices that it's like genre bingo for fans of Westerns and alien invasions.
Daniel Craig plays the requisite stranger come to town, but with a Jason Bourne-sized memory of his past. Characteristically earnest, Craig makes a better cowboy than Harrison Ford, who seems more strained by every new role he's given. But most importantly, whenever the plot seems to be at a dead end, a convenient, seemingly improvised twist keeps things moving. At times the actors are like kids playing make-believe, making up the rules as they go. But no matter what absurdity is required, they get on with more Battle: Tombstone action, which is enough fun to make Cowboys & Aliens a suitable diversion from the summer heat and our national debt. Steven Hale
The latest entry in a developing international genre that's essentially the Scarfaces of Many Lands, the first film from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to get U.S. distribution resembles nothing so much as a vintage blaxploitation flick, albeit with showier camerawork and fewer scruples. A pre-title montage sets the boundaries of the movie's concerns: the gas that's in desperately short supply in the city of Kinshasa, and the hands rapidly counting the cash made from selling it on the black market (which is practically the only market). Onto the scene saunters Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna), who's the movie's hero only because he's a laid-back, frisky hustler where all the other hustlers are ruthless cutthroats: He's made off with an Angolan truck bearing 25,000 liters of gas, which the white-suited Angolan ganglord will kill half Kinshasa to reclaim.
The plot is factory-issue gangster movie, from the obligatory finger-wagging scene with Riva's family to the conniving moll (Manie Malone) whose loyalties shift more easily than any of the gas-starved vehicles. What novelty there is lies in the matter-of-fact depiction of the thorough amorality that permeates the Congolese setting like carbon dioxide. Here priests extort money from outlaws and horn in on black-market deals, friends casually seize upon each other's misfortune, and betrayals are such second nature the participants scarcely blink. The constant sex and gory violence are more squalid than you'd get in an American film — but that's not necessarily an improvement. In Lingala and French with subtitles. (Opens Friday at The Belcourt) JIM RIDLEY
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