Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
It has become an all-too-regular occurrence for lower budget flicks to sacrifice realism in favour of creating a potentially dramatic film. Major plot holes, clichéd dialogue and totally unbelievable events are completely ignored by the filmmaker who thinks they are creating some semblance of entertainment. Not to say that some of these movies aren’t entertaining, it’s just that more often than not we are drawn into finding the holes in the story rather than following it.

Movie

American Outlaws is no exception. For starters the film gleefully neglects the fact that Jesse James was actually a hard-nosed criminal with no regard for life. Even the most ignorant of outback historians can’t deny that Jesse, a down to earth good guy in this flick, was nothing if not an evil man. Nevertheless, him and his buddies have been given a reprieve in the name of entertainment and are painted as outstanding moral citizens with a bone to pick with the railroad.

Director Les Mayfield and his buddies must think those who will watch this flick have a combined IQ of around twenty because there are more holes in the plot than the Merchant Bank Hotel after the gunfight. Case in point; Jesse, Frank (Jesse’s brother) and his pals have been caught in a bit of a gunfight with the nasty “blue coats”. One of the men calls to Frank for help as they lie behind a wagon, telling us that Jesse is a terrible shot. They keep popping up to shoot at the “bad guys” whenever they can, while the blue coats discharge an enormous cannon towards the wagon at an alarming rate. Of course, they miss. Realising that the men directing the cannon will eventually find their range, Frank tells everyone he needs a diversion. Enter our wonderful hero Jesse who, with no regard for his own safety, hops on top of his trusty steed and proceeds to jump straight over the wagon and into the line of fire. There must be a hundred blue coats with rifles standing around but miraculously none of them manage to get near the fearless Jesse as he hollers at the top of his voice, grips the reins with his teeth and fires his two pistols with consummate ease. The man regarded as being a terrible shot manages to land every one of his bullets on to the chest of a blue coat. What a hero!

Our "hero" Jesse

Meanwhile, behind the wagon Frank is able to poke his head up, lift his sight and fire whenever he sees fit. It seems every blue coat in the land has his eyes (but obviously not his sights) set on a rampaging Jesse, so Frank can pick them off at will. Once that is all over a bunch of cowboys riding horses appear from nowhere and charge down their hapless enemies, completing what has to be one of the most farcical opening sequences in film history, let alone merely Western flicks. The tagline reads, “bad is good again” so at least the filmmakers must have some knowledge of how much they are ignoring history.

The main gist of the plot is that Frank and Jesse have had their house obliterated and their mother killed, sparking a deadly row with the Railroad. And these boys aren’t alone cause the rest of the family decide to seek retribution. All in a very heroic way, no less.

The cast is surprisingly well known considering this flick is relatively small by current Hollywood standards (though some would say the script isn’t much worse than some of the current crop of big releases). Colin Farrell plays Jesse quite well even with sometimes laughable dialogue to deliver. This guy has obvious talent and saves the flick from being totally unwatchable. In fact it is his performance, along with the rest of the cast, that help to make this film at least slightly enjoyable to watch. He’s a far cry from the brilliant Minority Report with this one but does his best with the subject matter. Supporting Farrell is the charismatic Scott Caan, consigned to playing minor roles in most of his previous films, Gabriel Macht as Frank James, Will McCormack and Harris Yulin as the president of the Railroad. Even former James Bond star Timothy Dalton gets a gig, looking a little more gruff with his full head of facial hear in this flick. And where would we be without a love interest and something pretty to look at? Ali Larter is a great actress who probably deserves a little more than this kind of role but she nevertheless makes the most of her limited screen time. She’s got an impressive little resume going, even if it involves wearing whip-cream bikinis and kissing Kevin Smith’s wife. Larter gives a bit to this overall impressive performance from the cast.

While the film isn’t without its major problems, audience members who aren’t afraid to throw logic out the window  might just get a little bit of fun out of this one. Sacrificing a believable story and a decent script in the name of providing dramatic entertainment isn’t recommended but somehow there’s just enough on this flick, mostly from the good casting choices, to keep the audiences from thinking they just wasted two hours of their life.

With Roadshow going down the rental-only path the film will at least be available for audiences to try in their local rental outlet. And for those who enjoy what is on offer there will eventually be an option to buy the film in (hopefully) all its glory. Only time will tell.

Bad guys in bowler hats

Video

The film is presented in 1.85, is 16.9 enhanced and like most Roadshow releases features a pretty impressive transfer. Again the colours are very vibrant and sharp which can be sometimes tough to produce amidst the harshness of a Western landscape. There is some noticeable grain evident in periods during the flick, mostly visible in the sky and other more dominant colours in various scenes. If anything the sharpness highlights various areas throughout the film where CG imagery has been used, which looks neither realistic nor impressive. On the whole, however, the transfer is pretty darn good to look at.

Audio

Following on from a promising video transfer is an impressive audio mix in the form of a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Even though the farcical opening sequence isn’t the best to look at it is certainly a joy to listen to. All the bullets from the blue coats that miss their target seem to fly straight by you while the surrounds are used to paint the battlefield around us that we can’t quite see. This carries on throughout the film, with anything from horses and carts to human voices being thrown around the speakers to provide a pretty immersive audio experience. Well worth a listen.

Extras

There’s enough on this DVD release to satisfy those wanting a little bit more after the feature. First up is the Commentary with Director Les Mayfield, writer John Rogers and editor Michael Tronick. They have a genuine enthusiasm for the project and give us some good information relating to the shooting, CGI and production styles of the flick. These three combine well together to provide a really good commentary track that will have fans of the film loving every minute.

Next up is a collection of deleted scenes. Well, there’s actually only two. Entitled Jessica and Frank Argue and Jim & Layla, the two clips aren’t very interesting at all and wouldn’t have added anything more to the flick. More like extended clips than straight out deletions, these two seem more like late additions rather than meaningful extras that will enhance the entertainment value of the disc.

Whipped cream anybody?

Also included is a making of featurette divided into four parts. There’s the Making Of American Outlaws, Creating The Old West, Costuming The Cowboys and How To Be An Outlaw. Most of these explain themselves but on the whole the featurette, running about twenty-five minutes, is quite interesting. The interviews drive the whole thing along and there are enough of them to maintain interest. Not a bad little extra.

Rounding out the supplements is the theatrical trailer which tries to drum up a little excitement about the action scenes in the film. Pretty well done.

Overall

Despite some enormous plot holes and terrible writing at times American Outlaws somehow manages to entertain. Suspension of disbelief is the key but the performances of some competent cast members help to lift this one just above average. A good video and audio mix and a couple of quality extras make this one a decent rental title to take a look at before the retail release at a later date. Hard to pick if you’ll enjoy this one but take a look and find out for yourselves.


Links: