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'American Outlaws'

Cowhunks: Pretty boys in 'American Outlaws' are stranded between a serious Western and a parody

Friday, August 17, 2001

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

Pity the poor American Western. Our only original contribution to the literature of film is in such sad shape today that even a posse of John Ford, John Wayne and Sam Peckinpaugh couldn't save the wagon train.

 
    'American Outlaws'

Rating: PG-13 for something called "Western violence."

Starring: Colin, Farrell, Scottr Caan, Timothy Dalton, Kathy Bates.

Director: Les Mayfield

Critic's Call:

 
 

"American Outlaw" is the latest insult to its good name, not because it's a terrible movie (it's not), but because it shows no respect for the grand old cowboy tradition.

The people behind "Outlaw" -- director Les Mayfield ("Flubber") and writers Roderick Taylor ("Kenny Rogers As The Gambler, Part III") and John Rogers ("Rush Hour II")-- thought it would be cool to dress a bunch of 21st-century hunks up in 19th-century cowboy gear, stick them on horses and have them shoot people.

Like "The Sopranos" in spurs, these dudes have modern "issues," such as the heavy weight of celebrity, which they must work on, usually during bank robberies. It's funny, for a while.

The guys are pulling holdups to get revenge on the heartless railroad, which is illegally acquiring their family farms and burning out those who refuse to sell, like Ma James (Kathy Bates).

She's the God-fearin' mom of the James Boys, Jesse (Colin Farrell) and Frank (Gabriel Macht) who are best buds of the Younger clan, Cole (Scott Caan) and Bob (Will McCormack.) While the names are the same as the real outlaws, the history is changed to protect the plot.

Ma's smoky demise sparks this band of brothers to form the James-Younger Gang (no word on who got the T-shirt concession) to drive the railroad out of Missouri. Protecting the track is Allen Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) and his detective agency, again another real-life character (read about the Homestead Steel battle of 1892).

In a cute turn, Dalton, who played James Bond with negligible affect in two films, does a great Scottish accent, a la Sean Connery. Caan's Cole is a dead ringer for a young Bill Clinton, but it's Farrell who gets the girl, Ali Larter.

The less said about Larter the better. Her approach to acting is to pretend she's awake.

Another highly touted product of the British Isles (he's Irish), Farrell plays a cowboy about as well as Oscar Wilde might play an NFL tackle, but he looks good doing it.

And, that's really what this movie's about -- lookin' good. It's got the Western outfits, the steam-engine trains, the dynamite blasts, the shirtless studs and the token Indian. Some of the jokes are funny, too.

But, because it lacks any sense of the Western movie tradition, it's neither a serious treatment, nor a parody like "Blazing Saddles."

Mel Brooks' movie was a crude send-up of the whole genre, but "American Outlaws" just gives us the beans and expects us to do the rest.

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