AMERICAN OUTLAWS, by director Les Mayfield (BLUE STREAK), turns the
James-Younger outlaw gang into good guys who combine James Bond's
invincibility with Robin Hood's altruism. Set to a modern beat and scripted
with modern dialog, the movie is a pseudo-historical, would-be comedy.
Starring a bunch of relatively indistinguishable young male leads and one
token female (Ali Larter), it is a formulaic film carefully designed to
appeal to just the right demographics. The guys are like a bunch of frat
boys hamming it up as bank robbers. (If you're looking for a contemporary
take on an old story, A KNIGHT'S TALE is much more sharply written and a
whole lot more fun.)
The members of the famous gang include, Jesse and Frank James (Colin Farrell
and Gabriel Macht); Cole, Bob and Jim Younger (Scott Caan, Will McCormack
and Gregory Smith) and Comanche Tom (Nathaniel Arcand). We learn how, just
after the end of the Civil War, they were forced into a life of killing and
robbing by Yankees in general and the railroads in particular. The best
acting comes from ex-Bond Timothy Dalton as the evil Allan Pinkerton.
So the film can have explosions worthy of the next DIE HARD sequel, both
sides are given great dynamite. A stick of this stuff and entire buildings
go up in a flash, completely demolishing everything. Employing Burma Shave
type signs -- bet you didn't know that they had them way back then -- the
boys also use dynamite to scare people into doing what they want.
If the movie does have a saving grace, it is this. Perhaps this undeserving
film will do great box office and thus encourage the studios to make some
good westerns again. This is not as crazy an idea as it might seem.
Remember, it was less than a decade ago that UNFORGIVEN won a bunch of
Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
AMERICAN OUTLAWS runs 1:35. It is rated PG-13 for "western violence" and
would be acceptable for kids around 7 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 12, who thought the film was really excellent, gave it
*** 1/2. He commented on how they needed to make more westerns.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes