The Jesse James gang seen through the rosy glasses of a hormonal teenager might look like American Outlaws. This movie is a heroic romance in Western duds studded with action-flick clichés.
The James and Younger brothers look more like an unshaven boy-band with a cosmetic application of Wild West grunge for flavor. They ride onscreen into a Civil War battle as Confederate bushwhackers. Their horses are capable of leaping over Union obstacles in a single bound, soaring in slow motion like equestrian jet planes. Jesse (Colin Farrell) throws cover fire from his two six-guns as his big brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) snipes at enemy gunners with his rifle. The boys become war heroes. Too bad they were on the wrong side.
Returning home, they find themselves in another fight. Railroad magnate Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) and his henchmen — Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton), his men, and the U.S. Army — are attempting to extort their farmland from them. There’s no time to court teen magazine-pretty Zee (Ali Larter). Jesse and the boys have to strap on their guns again to drain the local banks and trains of railroad money with comic politeness, like a Western version of Hollywood’s Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Director Les Mayfield (Blue Streak) dresses up the Western romance and clichés of TV writer Roderick Taylor’s screenplay with the usual action-flick accents: breaking glass and explosions. Mayfield makes gifted young actor Farrell into a two-fisted, beefcake-lite action hero equipped with the standard set of expressions. Don’t expect the equivocal ironies of Ang Lee’s bushwhacker epic Ride with the Devil (1999) or a more standard telling of the James Gang’s legend such as Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980).
The real crime of American Outlaws is its ridiculously revisionist history — and a waste of good talent.
Visit the official American Outlaws Web site at americanoutlaws.com.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.