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American Outlaws

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: American Outlaws

Starring: Colin Farrell, Gabriel Macht
Director: Les Mayfield
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Action, Comedy, Western

*Also starring: Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Will McCormack, Timothy Dalton, Gregory Smith, Harris Yulin, Kathy Bates, Ronny Cox

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When I went to college back in the Jurassic Age our idea of fun during freshman year was to call all the people in the local phone book named Frank James and to say, "Hello, Frank? This is Jesse. We ride tonight!" Little did we know--after all we were not even sophomoric then--that they must have heard this line a hundred times, but then, this took the edge off the midterms and that's what counted. We weren't the only ones who had fun with the James brothers. Others have had the same idea and they made money to boot, and what's more they gave lots of other people enjoyment as well. In fact given the status of Jesse James in American mythology it's a wonder that (to my knowledge) no one has tackled the subject since Walter Hill knocked out "The Long Riders" twenty-one years ago with Keith and Robert Carradine as the Younger brothers, Stacy and James Keach as the James brothers, Randy and Dennis Quaid as the Miller boys and Nicholas and Christopher Guest as the Ford brothers. Quite an idea, a quartet of real-life bros to play the legendary hero- villains in that stylized and extremely bloody film, a mighty tough act for Les Mayfield to follow. Given that Mr. Mayfield's last film was "Blue Streak" with Martin Lawrence, and that before that he was at the helm of "Flubber" and "Encino Man," you'd be right to assume that his "American Outlaws" would be both less bloody and more humorous than the Hill take on the famous bandits.

"American Outlaws" features a jokey Jesse played by the charismatic Colin Farrell ("Tigerland"), who bears a striking resemblance to a young Treat Williams. Farrell does many of his own stunts and is the subject of both premeditated and unintentional humor. Jesse teams up with his own brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) and also with Cole Younger (Scott Caan) and Cole's brother Bob (Will McCormack plus Comanche Tom played by Nathaniel Arcand), and they hit the ground running before the credits begin to roll as Mayfield takes us to the final days of the American Civil War in 1865. Though the James-Younger gang appears to have mowed down more Yankees than Rambo 86'd Asians, the South surrenders, Missouri is occupied by Northern troops, and the Jameses are welcomed home by their Bible-thumping mama (Kathy Bates). To add to the troubles of the local farmers in the Missouri town (actually filmed by Russell Boyd on a six-acre-long, newly-built set near Austin, Texas), Eastern railroad tycoon Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) has the backing of the U.S. government to buy up farms across far more land than is really needed, displacing farmers who have spent their lives on the land. The James-Younger gang becomes a small army of resistance, a guerrilla group if you will, hitting the railroad imperialists where it hurts--in their wallets. They rob the banks where the Rains payrolls are kept, hit the railroad supply lines, and rip up tracks, frustrating Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton), who has been hired by Rains to head a small army to protect the interests of the corporation.

"American Outlaws" succeeds despite its rehashing of the James legend because it avoids reinventing the wheel. Rather than going over the same material dug up by Walter Hill in the 1980 film, Mayfield keeps the picture's tone good-humored. You can virtually see the boyishly handsome Colin Farrell and the GQ- cover model Scott Caan winking at the audience, while even the villainous Timothy Dalton, decked out in a pin-striped suit, thick black beard and ten-gallon hat in the 110-degree heat appears to take his regular setbacks with a fine spirit. There's plenty of action--though not much from Ali Larter, who as Jesse's gal Zee Mimms flirts outrageously with the outlaw until she finally ropes him in--as farmhouses and banks take turns in being dynamited and Jesse twists and turns to avoid Gatling guns and six-shooters alike. This is a fun western for people who don't particularly dig westerns.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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