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American Outlaws

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Young Guns: The Next Generation

© 2001, Warner Bros.
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Personally, I blame the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson comedic western "Shanghai Noon." If it wasn't for that monstrosity of a film (which was only marginally successful), we might never have had utter junk like "American Outlaws" (IMDb listing). Why else would a major production company (Morgan Creek) and studio (Warner Brothers) decide they want to invest in an insanely awful, poorly executed, laughably acted, downright pointless "re-imagining" of Jesse James and the old west. But just not the old west. Nope, it's the old west set to music by Moby and featuring the actors in shoot-outs staged like John Woo's bastard stepchild.

Frank (Gabriel Macht) and Jesse James (Colin Farrell), along with cousins Cole (Scott Caan) and Ben Younger (Will McCormack), have returned home from the Civil War tired and ready to settle down with the family farm and the beautiful women (including Ali Larter). When the law (Timothy Dalton) and a railroad tycoon (Harris Yulin) want to destroy the James farm to build the railroad, Jesse and the boys don't take the bad news lying down. They form an outlaw posse that begins to rob banks in an attempt to stop the funding of the railroad at the source.

"American Outlaws" takes the legend of Jesse James and his gang and screws it even further into fantasy. It takes years of myth and tradition and forms it into a crass, brain-dead western for fans of "Seventeen" magazine. "American Outlaws" begs the question: Why? Why are they doing this? If director Les Mayfield (check this headache-inducing filmography out: "Flubber," "Encino Man," the "Miracle On 34th Street" remake, and "Blue Streak") had no intention to show respect to the James legacy, or even the western genre, then why make this film? Was it a chance to show off some young hunky actors? Maybe he liked the idea of staging elaborate Jackie Chan-ish action sequences in the old west (which I thought was covered in "Shanghai Noon")? Or maybe the opportunity to make a western for the MTV generation was just too big to pass up. I could accept all of these excuses if Mayfield would've just taken the time to enjoy any of these examples. Instead he pounds them all into a fine paste, thus annulling any chance this rancid movie had of enjoying itself.

Also, isn't it a little dangerous to idolize the notorious outlaw Jesse James? Wasn't he a cold-blooded killer? Did we not learn anything from Bobby Brady's mistakes?

For Colin Farrell, "American Outlaws" is his follow-up feature after receiving heavy praise in Joel Schumacher's almost unseen "Tigerland". Farrell is a dangerously good actor, and he is the only member of the cast that even comes close to escaping Mayfield's suffocating grasp. The others actors get swallowed up in the general stupidity of the piece. Good actors too, like Kathy Bates and Timothy Dalton. They look confused as they try to act seriously, but then have to witness Farrell doing barrel rolls on a bank counter with blazing guns in both hands. I don't blame the actors for trying. I mean, how many chances do you get to make a western in these times? But Mayfield blows it big time by wasting the talent on a story that didn't need to be told (much less a "fresh western film that was appealing to today's moviegoer." A direct quote from the press kit), and dialog that didn't need to be spoken.

These types of "rock and roll" westerns annoy me to no end simply because all this time, money, and effort went into bastardizing what I consider to be a very valuable genre. Les Mayfield really has no respect for the intricacies of the genre, instead focusing on the cliches: the whorehouses, the bank shoot-outs, the dead mother, the faithful Native American sidekick (Good. Lord.), the noble outlaw, and the evil lawmen. He is wasting people's time with this nonsense. I'm not looking for another brooding, dark oater with Clint Eastwood. Even a comedy would've been just fine. But Mayfield instead creates a film of zero pleasures. He misses the greatest opportunity to resuscitate the dead western genre, and instead seals up the crypt for another decade.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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