(CBS) "Cowboys and wha'?" may be the reaction of many out there to the latest summer blockbuster to mosey its way into theaters this weekend. Not for Jon Favreau though. For the director, known for his big-budget "Iron Man" comic book adaptations, the notion of melding a true-blue Western with an out-of-this-world sci-fi flick was too intriguing to pass up.
The result is a cleverly orchestrated, masterfully executed blend of an old-fashioned Western combined with an alien invasion that plays as naturally as mom's homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - loaded and completely satisfying. The film was well received by fans at its Comic-Con world premiere and is expected to make a killing at the box office.
The film also opens a door, begging the question if more screenwriters and directors will be tempted to push the envelope and explore the vast opportunities to create a potentially new movie-going experience - fusion cinema. It's not that films don't constantly borrow from other genres (Will Smith's less than perfect Tech-Western parody "Wild, Wild, West" is one out there example), but not on the size and scale and quality of "Cowboys and Aliens."
Favreau, taking his vision for the film from a Platinum Studios novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg has hit on something big, exploring largely unchartered territory. To his credit, his directorial chops served him well. He nailed a film that had the potential to go dreadfully wrong. He had some help along the way though - a gaggle of writers and a big-gun cast including Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde and, of course, Steven Spielberg, serving as one of the executive producers on the project.
Set in 1875, the film starts out as a classic Western -and not without some clichés. Jake Lonegran (Daniel Craig) is the obligatory brooding stranger that rides into a town called Absolution. The twist is: he's suffering from amnesia and doesn't know who he is - nor does anyone else - save for one person. He finds himself shackled in the middle of the desert, with no boots, no spurs and with no memory of what happened to him, or how he got there. A chance encounter with three strangers lets the audience know right off the bat that whoever he is, he is definitely not someone that anyone wants to mess with.
It's just the type of role Harrison Ford would have played a few years ago, but in this case, Lonegran is played pitch perfectly by Craig. Ford, instead, is at his curmudgeonly best, cast as the bitter, tyrannical cattle baron Colonel Dolarhyde, who runs the town. He also knows only too well who Lonegran is, creating a big problem for Craig's character. Everyone in town, including a cast of characters that includes Paul Dano as Dolarhyde's cowardly son, Sam Rockwell as the town's saloon owner and Clancy Brown as the preacher man, wants Lonegram to leave. Only Ella (Olivia Wilde), wants him around and seems to understand the reason for his amnesia.
Predominantly a Western that the characters play to the T, without kitsch or camp, the inevitable great "showdown" translates to a real "what the heck" moment, when out of nowhere, alien spacecrafts arrive on the scene, invading the town. Creatures drop down and chaos ensues, as citizens are abducted - including the Colonel's son. Craig's character, finding a use for his wrist shackle, suddenly proves his worth, with the only weapon capable of dealing with this incredible alien invasion.
Favreau manages to hold the two genres together, without compromising either too much. The film plays out as a pretty first rate (though predictable) Western, before all hell breaks loose and the aliens invade. He keeps a tight hold of the reins, never letting nifty, well-executed action sequences get too out of hand and allowing CGI and special effects to ruin what the audience has already invested in. Sticking within a somewhat "traditional" framework for a Western, the town finally rallies, coming together to form one albeit strange posse to save their fellow brethren.
It may not be your daddy's Western, but shades of John Wayne-like traits interspersed with clever dialogue, strong acting from a mature cast and a clever analogy between dueling cowboys and Indians and a battle between good and evil, all compounded with the most unexpected shoot out of all time, makes "Cowboys and Aliens" something definitely worth moseying into theaters for. Even the most resistant viewer, still scratching their head and wondering why they are paying to see a film like this, will come away satisfied and pocket some real "a-ha" moments.
CBS News' Russ Mitchell contributed to this review.