Review in a Hurry: Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make a great onscreen team...so who thought it would be a great idea to just totally split them up for most of this movie? Was it you, director Jon Favreau? You used to be better than this. A handful of good scenes do not a great movie make.
The Bigger Picture: Craig plays an outlaw named Jake Lonergan, who has lost his memory and woken up with a strange metal device on his wrist. He seems like a natural good guy, but he has a dark past. Ford is Dolarhyde, a small-town big-shot who is widely disliked, both for not suffering failure well and for letting his alcoholic nutcase of a son (Paul Dano) get away with anything he likes. Yet beneath it all, the old grump has a soft side.
When metal flying things attack the town, scorching cattle and abducting humans, it's team-up time. But James Bond and Indiana Jones don't work all that well together, at least at first. Some epic staredowns and face-punches ensue. For a mismatched buddy movie, this is a good start.
Shame, then, that this isn't that kind of movie. Craig is soon paired off with Olivia Wilde (playing a tough cookie who hides a ridiculous secret) while Ford is left to hang with a dozen or so other characters who get established with no payoff. Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown are among the more notable supporting players left without much material, but they're far from the only ones.
Ford, who so often sleepwalks through generic hero parts these days, shows some real fire as a more ambiguous figure, lighting up the action (emotional and physical) when he can. Then the narrative cuts away from him and momentum gets lost again.
Poor pacing isn't the only problem. The aliens are really ineptly thought out compared to the cowboy side of the equation. Their motivations are silly, as is their biologically unlikely anatomy. Like the creature in Super 8, many of the things they do serve immediate story needs without making any sense once the grand scheme is unveiled.
Director Favreau used to have a good feel for genuine emotion. Think of the fraternal bonding in Zathura, or the daddy issues in Elf. Sad to say, he now falls for easier shortcuts, using a manipulative and treacly score to enunciate moments that haven't earned their weight.
But damn, that wrist-blaster thingy Craig wears is cool. Every kid who sees this will want one.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If it performs decently at the box office and a sequel is made that understands the Ford-Craig pairing is what makes things work as well as they do, all might not be in vain.