American Outlaws
dir Les Mayfield
scr Roderick Taylor, John Rogers
with Colin Ferrell, Scott Caan, Gabriel Macht, Ali Larter, Timothy Dalton, Kathy Bates, Gregory Smith, Will McCormack, Nathaniel Arcand, Harris Yulin, Ronny Cox, Terry O'Quinn
release US 17.Aug.01; UK 14.Dec.01
Warners 01/US 1h33
2 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Using the James-Younger Gang as a springboard, this postmodern Western squanders a terrific cast and story with a corny script and clunky direction. After the Civil War, a group of childhood friends return to their farms in Missouri and, hopefully, normal life. But it isn't that simple for the Jameses--arty, intelligent Frank (Macht) and charismatic leader Jesse (Ferrell)--or the Youngers--tough guy Cole (Caan), good-hearted Bob (McCormack) and kid brother Jimmy (Smith)--because the evil railroad boss (Yulin) wants their land. So they turn into outlaw bandits, robbing the railroad bank accounts and giving the money back to the farmers, thereby ensuring huge populist support. But the tenacious security expert Pinkerton (Dalton) is on their trail.

The basic story is excellent, as are opportunities for an examination of power and leadership, grass roots movements, justice and the law, and most of all the creation of a myth. But the filmmakers only nod at these ideas and stick to their off-handed, modern-style approach, which is effective in small doses but never lets the story come to life in a meaningful or engaging way. Ferrell is superb at the centre, as are the rest of the likeable actors, even though their characters are only superficially defined. Dalton is fine as a slightly more complex than usual villain; but Bates is wasted as Ma James in a few cringe-worthy scenes. The production itself is surprisingly slipshod, with dodgy continuity, cheap-looking sets and a few terrible directoral decisions (massive explosions, an open-mouthed first kiss between Jesse and his girl, played by Larter in tough-as-nails cowgirl style). And there are so many cliches ricocheting around each scene that they nearly take an eye out. Ouch.
themes, violence, language cert 12 5.Dec.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall