Texas Rangers

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Shelved for more than a year by its distributor, Dimension Films, and now quietly dumped into a very few theaters, Texas Rangers doesn’t deserve its ignominious fate. By no means a great film, this sturdy, old-school western about the difference between revenge and justice may have been an odd fit with Dimension’s teen comedies and horror flicks, but timing is everything.

Set in 1875 on the embattled Texas-Mexico border, this film so perfectly encapsulates our national psyche at this moment that it should have triggered a full-scale patriotic ad campaign. Just look at steely-eyed, square-jawed Dylan McDermott as Leander McNelly, former pride of the Confederate army, telling another set of eager recruits that what makes them — the newly reformed and state-sanctioned Texas Rangers — better than the outlaws they’re ruthlessly hunting down is that they have right on their side. Sound like another Texan eager to establish his legitimacy?

The real-life Captain McNelly was head of special forces, and Texas Rangers (which takes the usual dramatic license with history) places him in the midst of a series of brutal border skirmishes with the ruthless cattle-rustling bandit, John King Fisher (Alfred Molina). Director Steve Miner (Friday The 13th Parts 2 and 3, Forever Young, Lake Placid) is definitely in white hat-black hat mode here. King Fisher and his right-hand man (Vincent Spano) are gleeful sadists who enjoy killing unarmed civilians, as well as any lawmen who would impede their commerce with the Mexican Army. They are uncomplicated villains of pure evil who wreak havoc with a self-satisfied smile.

It’s the heroes, of course, who are complicated. Not only the haunted, consumptive McNelly, but his unlikely protégé, Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (James Van Der Beek), an educated Easterner who enlists with the Rangers for vengeance, but becomes the articulate voice of the law in lawless times.

The strengths of Texas Rangers are its well-chosen cast (musicians Randy Travis and Usher Raymond, character actors Matt Keeslar and Robert Patrick, and Ashton Kutcher again providing comic relief), its rich cinematography echoing the colors of rural Alberta (where it was filmed) and its very old-fashionedness.

“The battle goes on until the wicked are dead,” asserts McNelly, “and the meek shall inherit the earth.” When Dunnison questions his meekness, this Texan just grins and replies that their job is to prepare the way. Just another blood sacrifice for a fragile peace.

E-mail Serena Donadoni at letters@metrotimes.com.

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