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Cowboys vs. Aliens: Plot & Full Movie Review!

Starring Daniel Kaluuya and directed by Jordan Peele, “Us,” a sci-fi horror film, has a lot going for it at first.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie where the actors talked about a flying saucer or even used the term, but Jordan Peele’s third film, “Nope,” proves that he has the pop-culture acumen to breathe new life into an old trope. Unfortunately, his most recent production, a horror-science fiction hybrid, disappoints for some of the same reasons his second picture, “Us,” did. Although Mr. Peele generates a lot of interesting concepts and generates a good deal of tension and anxiety, he is unable to resolve these issues in a satisfying climax. Instead, the film’s ending is sloppy, unfocused, and anticlimactic, drawing unfavorable comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan’s poorer work, another high-concept writer-director whose career sputtered.

Five years after Mr. Peele made the British actor Daniel Kaluuya a household name with his breakout picture “Get Out,” he’s back in the role of OJ, a timid horse wrangler who works with his father (Keith David) outside of Hollywood.

OJ and his flamboyant sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) in the Santa Clarita Valley of California begin to discover increasingly unusual doings among the clouds after a disturbing episode in which terror rains down from the sky. Jupe (Steven Yeun), a former child actor who now operates an Old West theme park nearby, has his own terrible event involving a chimpanzee he once appeared on a sitcom with, and their stories slowly intertwine.

cowboy vs aliens

The film’s intentional echoes of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Poltergeist,” both directed by Steven Spielberg, as well as the satirical skewering of television in Spielberg’s own “Poltergeist,” are all linked by the word “nope,” which is mentioned multiple times but never really have much dramatic weight.

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Mr. Peele’s goal is to make genre works that reference other genre works while making subtle, thought-provoking societal commentary. He did it with great passion in “Get Out,” but this time he tosses in allusions to the earliest days of cinema, the cultural and physical trash of American existence, and the vapidity of media-addled psyches without saying much of anything.

Why make light of tacky tourist traps and our well-documented love of theatrics if the jokes are only going to detract from the exciting parts? Mr. Peele ruins an otherwise thrilling scene by playing a musical theme reminiscent of cheesy 1960s television westerns. His targets are not so many easy targets as they are pre-packaged fruit and vegetables waiting to be thrown into the blender.

cowboy vs aliens

As satirical as it is, the structure is shaky. Running almost as long as “The Shining,” “Nope” seeks to earn entry beside it to the select group of films that give a prestigious range of scariness instead of cheap shocks. But the movie progresses so slowly, with nothing thrilling happening until around 45 minutes, that it feels excessive. And when they should be getting ready to outwit the aliens, the protagonists instead spend all their time planning how to record them in the hopes of creating a video clip that will get the attention of Oprah Winfrey.

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Mr. Peele spends way too much time on tedious details about a trip to a superstore to buy surveillance equipment, the efforts of an electronics installer (Brandon Perea) to make it all work properly, and the craftsmanship of a cranky Hollywood cinematographer in order to explore the theme of obsession with moving images (Michael Wincott).

It’s as if the cast of “Independence Day” spent the entire film fretting over how to film a documentary on the invaders rather than figuring out a way to defeat them, and only then came up with a ridiculous answer.

At the beginning of his career, Mr. Peele established himself as one of Hollywood’s top auteurs by winning an Oscar for creating the smart script for “Get Out.”

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In “Nope,” he reveals to be too fond of his own flourishes to trim the fat, to worry whether his ideas cohere, or to respect the dramatic imperatives of the form in which he is working, so his celebrity status isn’t helping him much. Mr. Peele wrote and directed “Nope” alone; he could have benefited from having a collaborator who could point out his flaws and assist him to fix them.

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