Length: 94 minutes
Director: Les Mayfield (Encino Man; Blue Streak)
Writers: Roderick Taylor (The Brave One; Open Graves) and John Rogers (Catwoman; The Core)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Kathy Bates, Timothy Dalton, Gabriel Macht, Will McCormack, Harris Yulin, Ronny Cox, Terry O’Quinn, Gregory Smith. Nathaniel Arcand, Barry Tubb
Having been extremely impressed with “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford”, I came across “American Outlaws” and remembered it was about James as well. I barely recalled it being released into theaters, but as a western fan I had always wanted to watch it despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews I had read by the critics (it is included in Roger Ebert’s book collection of awful movies “Your Movie Sucks”). Five minutes in and I thought that maybe the critics were taking themselves too seriously, that “American Outlaws” was going to be a fun, brainless action packed western in the “Young Guns” mold. Fifteen minutes later and the sad realization sunk in that that was not going to be the case. Brainless- yes. Fun- only if you have a group of friends ready to rip the movie apart. Ebert calls the movie a “Boy Band Western” in his review and it’s an accurate description. Released in 2001, a time when dumb teen movies filled the multiplexes, the movie is an excuse to showcase “talents” like Scott Caan and Ali Larter that Hollywood kept insisting were going to be the “next big things”, but fittingly never became them. Colin Farrell managed to escape this mess, but I’m sure he thanks the heavens that “Minority Report” was released the following year, because if his career had to be judged by his performance here then he’d be in a lot of straight-to-DVD releases. The story of Jesse and Frank James has long been an easy fill for Hollywood. The story lends itself well to film, but here instead of letting the story unfold and naturally be interesting, “American Outlaws” decides to just unroll boring clichés and ridiculous action sequences (at one point, Farrell rolls across a bar shooting two six shooters and killing every “bad guy” in sight). It also awkwardly throws in James’ real life romance with his future wife, Zee Mimms (played in a Razzie worthy performance by Larter). The romantic scenes seem to actually try to outdo the awfulness of the action sequences and finally collide into one complete clusterfuck when Zee joins the gang to help rescue Jesse from chief villain Allan Pinkerton (former ‘James Bond’ Timothy Dalton). The movie’s main weakness (out of many) is it’s laughable dialogue- some of the worst in western history- witness the discussion between Farrell and Caan as Caan’s character- real life outlaw and co-gang leader Cole Younger- wants to change the name of the gang from the “James-Younger Gang” to the “Younger-James Gang”. One of the twerps in the gang chimes in that “done makes no sense ‘cuz it will confuse people! People will think that there’s an “Older James Gang”!”. Har Har.