Geoff Cox’s guide to the latest releases

A WILD West town dominated by a cattle baron comes under attack by invaders from another world in COWBOYS & ALIENS (12: Paramount).

Tuesday, 10th January 2012, 3:58 am

It may seem a strange hybrid, but this sci-fi Western works surprisingly well, with Iron Man director Jon Favreau’s solid adaptation of a popular graphic novel remaining true to both genres.

The Searchers meets Independence Day as Daniel Craig’s mysterious stranger with no memory teams up with the tyrannical cattle boss (Harrison Ford) to make a stand against giant mole monsters from outer space.

Craig unites the townsfolk, a gang of outlaws and an Apache tribe into an army to fight back against the aliens and learn the truth about his past.

There’s no hint of Wild Wild West camp here, which is a good thing as the film gains enormous dramatic appeal from being played completely straight.

Full of plot surprises, scary creature jolts and terrific death ray and camouflaged spacecraft effects, the tone shifts between horse opera cliché and sci-fi abduction horror, making this bug-eyed showdown a winner.

Craig, evoking Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’, is the epitome of the taciturn loner hero, while Ford’s cranky frontier entrepreneur helps you dismiss the absurdity of it all and makes the movie work like a charm.

> There’s a demanding twin role for Dominic Cooper in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE (18: Icon), a drama based on the real-life exploits of the Iraqi army lieutenant forced to become the body double for Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son Uday to distract assassins.

The English actor seethes with indignation and bristles at the depravity he has no choice but to witness in the role of Latif Yahia, the soldier who knows his family will be killed unless he follows orders.

But, if anything, he’s even better as the terrifying Hussein Jr, playing him as a spoiled child with very grown-up appetites for sex and violence.

The problem is that the story, based on Yahia’s memoirs, struggles for momentum once it’s established that Uday was indeed a monster.

Director Lee Tamahori manages a few moments of suspense, but the film’s superficial approach has little fresh insight to offer. He also struggles with a romantic sub-plot featuring miscast Ludivine Sagnier as a Lebanese seductress, so the movie is not as gripping as it should be.

> Fans of the horror franchise will enjoy how FINAL DESTINATION 5 (15: Warner) cleverly connects with the original movie and replays every death from the entire series so far over the closing credits.

The deaths are as inventive, witty and gory as ever in this latest outing in which a lucky few survive a suspension-bridge collapse after the usual premonition, only to be told by returning creepy coroner Tony Todd that they’ve merely delayed their grim reaping.

Steven Quale, making his feature directorial debut after assisting James Cameron on Titanic and Avatar, keeps the fun-scary slaughter visually impressive and the bridge disaster is easily the most spectacular opener in the long-running series.

Also look out for a new plot rule – Death spares any survivor willing to kill to inherit their victim’s mortality – which boosts the thriller elements.

Yet it’s the fatal laser eye surgery and nasty acupuncture demise that will cause the most squirming.

> The mountains, woodlands and rivers of the Scottish Highlands make a breathtaking backdrop for horror in gruelling survival saga A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (15: Kaleidoscope).

And although the story eventually shifts to the village of Annan Moor during its Beltane festival and the action becomes more formulaic, the mix of aerial swoops and hand-held close-ups give this wilderness thriller plenty of energy.

The efforts of climber Melissa George and her friends to help a Serbian girl (Holly Boyd) they find imprisoned in a forest pit are tense, particularly as they have to contend with a couple of murderous kidnappers as well as the hostile terrain.

The arrival of the girl’s warlord father to handle negotiations and unleash a couple of ruthless mercenaries sparks a rise in the body count.

> Weird, wonderful and visually stunning, LOVELY BY SURPRISE (12: Eureka) follows the journey of a writer as she attempts to finish her first novel.

She turns to her mentor and ex-lover, but his seemingly innocent advice to kill the book’s protagonist leads one of her wilful characters to escape from the novel and stir up unresolved issues in her life.