American Outlaws

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1 Hour and 33 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: C-

Aside from some of the dialogue, there is nothing particularly horrible about this film. Yet, as I watched it, I couldn't really see a reason for its existence. When you're watching a movie and thinking that, it can't be a good thing.

Needless to say, I didn't walk in expecting "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". The latter stars Clint Eastwood (A.K.A. "God") this movie stars the son of James Caan. There's a slight discrepancy there, I think you will notice. And it doesn't favor "American Outlaws". But it's been a while since we had an honest-to-goodness Western. "Shanghai Noon" was a playful, fun western involving Jackie Chan. "Wild, Wild West" was a playful, fun western in the "Men in Black" mold. But a straight western? We haven't had one of those in a few years.
Well, we still haven't. This film has its heart in the right place, but as one watches it, one is reminded of "Young Guns", another film that had a cast of fresh-faced young men trying to convince us they were outlaws. I'm sorry, but this bunch of guys looks more like a boy band than a group that might inspire terror and earn respect in the Old West. I'm sure that, in the real Old West, people this young really were outlaws. However, I'm also sure that those men didn't look like they just stepped off a GQ cover.

But I don't just want to pick on the cast (and, in truth, Scott Caan and Colin Farrel do about as well as they can with their thinly-written roles). There are much bigger problems. For one thing, there is nothing really original about this plot. The plot paints the James gang as a well-meaning, Robin-Hood-like bunch of guys who only rob banks that hold money of the evil railroad barons and then give a large share of it to the poor. Now, this probably isn't historically accurate. And I don't really care about the historical accuracy of a film like this, quite frankly. But I would like it if the heroes weren't made into saints. The great thing about the Leone westerns is the moral ambiguity of the main characters. None of that is in evidence here. And the plot moves with extreme predictability. You will know where this film is going from the first frame. That wouldn't even bother me if there were some flair to the whole proceedings, but there isn't. This is a by-the-numbers western. The action isn't even all that great. The action sequences are edited so rapidly that it seems more like a trailer for a western movie rather than a western movie itself. You get the impression that something is happening, you just don't get to enjoy it. The end sequence involving a train wreck, however, is pretty exciting. It just comes a little too late.

I must, however, commend Timothy Dalton. It's very nice to see him working again, and especially here. He is a wonderful foil for Jesse James. Not so much a bad guy as a guy with a job to do who still has a good deal of respect for Jesse. Amidst the sneering villains of the piece, he is a joy to behold. If he were this charismatic in more films, he might work a little more often.

In the end, "American Outlaws" isn't an awful film. It's just not a very memorable one. Lame dialogue, no spark to distinguish itself, bland actors and bland situations all led me to shift in my seat more than any movie I've seen in quite some time. It's not all bad though: it did put me in the mood to watch a real western. Something by Leone, perhaps.