American Outlaws

on August 17, 2001 by Paul Clinton
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"American Outlaws" is a western so devoid of a narrative, it plays like a prolonged version of the Wild West stunt show at Knott¹s Berry Farm. The filmmakers have stripped the movie to its barest bones, using stock shoot-outs and bank robberies as interchangeable parts of the machine plot. Even worse, this epic dud tries for iconic grandeur in yet another retelling of the Jesse James legend. This is the kind of trash Eastwood blew apart when he made "Unforgiven."

This time around, Colin Farrell is the outlaw James. It¹s good casting. The actor, memorable as the off-kilter, rebellious platoon leader from "Tigerland," wears a rogue charm appropriate for the role. Amazingly, screenwriters Roderick Taylor and John Rogers present an unblinkingly vapid portrait of the county¹s first well-known bank robber. Taylor and Rogers ignore the most interesting details of James¹ life--his Baptist upbringing, the disastrous attempt to rob a bank in Northfield, Minn. and even his shooting death in the back while hanging a picture. The one bit of historical authenticity has James trying to "go straight" with his wife Zee (Ali Lartner, the sorority girl on trial in "Legally Blonde").

The movie introduces other members of the James-Younger gang--Frank James (Gabriel Macht), blonde stud Cole Younger (Scott Caan) and goofy Bob Younger (Will McCormack). In bits of bizarre, misguided comedy, the gang¹s members bicker over their celebrity status with a curious public. Allan Pinkerton (hilariously overplayed by Timothy Dalton) is the detective hired by the head of the railroad (Harris Yulin) to bring James to justice.

James is viewed by some as a sort of American Robin Hood--his fight against the railroad is used by the movie as evidence of that. But in reality he was also a cold-blooded killer. Instead of delving into James¹ complex, conflicting legacy, Taylor and Rogers just paint him as a teen hunk.

At last count, there were more than 30 movie versions of the Jesse James story--including a 1939 version with Tyrone Powers, Sam Fuller¹s "I Shot Jesse James" and "Frank and Jesse," the latest attempt with Rob Lowe. "American Outlaws" is one for the scrap heap. Starring Colin Farrell, Scott Caan and Ali Lartner. Directed by Les Mayfield. Written by Roderick Taylor and John Rogers. Produced by Bill Gerber and James G. Robinson. A Warner Bros. release. Western. Rated PG-13 for western violence. Running time: 94 minutes

Tags: Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Ali Lartner, Directed by Les Mayfield, Written by Roderick Taylor, John Rogers, Produced by Bill Gerber, James G. Robinson, A Warner Bros. release, Western, conflicting, public, misguided, gangs, celebrity
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