This much fun can't be legal!
Was there ever a time where teenage westerns were THE thing to see? I know that there was the two Young Guns movies, but otherwise has there ever been a mega hit old west movie starring anyone from the Dawson's Creek age range? My mind is drawing a blank, but apparently studio executives have different recollections due to the release of films like American Outlaws. Directed by the same guy who brought us the Pauley Shore vehicle Encino Man (my brain just started hurting even thinking about that movie), American Outlaws is a retelling of the Jessie James saga starring Colin Farrell (Tigerland), Scott Caan (Ocean's 11), Harris Yulin (Ghostbusters 2) and Timothy Dalton (the lesser of the four James Bonds). Warner has jam packed this new DVD edition of the old west tale told through kids who are barely at the legal drinking age.
Facts of the Case
Jessie James (Ferrell), Cole Younger (Caan), and their gang of outlaws are out to stop some corrupt railroad barons who have a burning desire to tear down their farms and build sprawling railroads across their land! Lead by James, this band of brothers will do anything to put a stop to these bad guys—even if it means going to war! Their task won't be easy—hot on their tail is detective Allan Pinkerton (Dalton), a cunning and ruthless man who pits himself against James and Cole's gang as if he were playing the ultimate game of chess. Along the way Jessie will meet and marry the beautiful and spunky Zee (Ali Larter, Varsity Blues) while Pinkerton and his group of thugs will learn that it's not a good idea to go up against one of the greatest guns in the west!
Every single solitary review I read of American Outlaws said that it was a dismal and ultimately cruddy piece of filmmaking. I am completely baffled by these reviews. By theory I'm not a western movie fan. I've seen one of the Young Guns films (whichever the one is where Emilio Estevez plays an old guy), and I tried to sit through Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven but fell asleep on more than one occasion. So it was with hesitation that I watched American Outlaws. To my surprise, I really, really enjoyed this movie.
Is American Outlaws great filmmaking? No way, Jose. This movie isn't going to go down in the annals of Oscar winning movies any time soon. Instead, American Outlaws is a joyous romp that has a lot of gunfights, buildings exploding from dynamite, and Ali Larter standing wet and sumptuous in a riverbed. I'm going out on a limb to say that those three things will easily grab my attention in any film, no matter what the genre is.
The story for American Outlaws isn't great, or even good for that matter. A bunch of outlaws have to make sure that some evil government-types don't take over the land that's rightfully theirs. The movie seems filled with all kinds of western clichés; there's Kathy Bates as the typical God-fearing, hard cooking mother, scraggly old coots playing cards, bank robberies and cocky gunfighters who think they're going to live forever. Even with all these obvious traits, American Outlaws transcends itself to become a fun, fast paced action movie that should have had a disclaimer at the beginning that stated "out of courtesy, please turn off your brains now."
Relative newcomer Colin Farrell shows promise as the sure yet sensitive Jessie James. Scott Caan (son of actor James Caan) shows that he could become a major star with a little more depth and the right career choices. Gabriel Macht (The Object Of My Affection) deserves special mention for his humorous comedic deliver as Frank, one of Jessie's loony gang members. For the consummate filmgoer there's scraggily Harris Yulin chewing the scenery and grumbling about Jessie's group forcing him to "lose millions" due to the destruction of his railroad project. Timothy Dalton as Pinkerton looks like he's overacting for all he's worth, but for some odd reason that fits in just fine with American Outlaws's attitude. Some twenty first century phrases are thrown around that obviously weren't around in the 1800s (I'm pretty sure that no one said that robbing banks was "all the rage" in the old west), but most inconsistencies can be forgiven due to the quirky energy this film gives out.
American Outlaws is one of those rare guilty pleasures that shouldn't have been fun, but somehow it just is. Like David Cassidy and the mayonnaise on Wendy's hamburgers, I just can't explain the appeal—American Outlaws is just mindless fun.
American Outlaws is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Warner has done an exceptional job on this brand new transfer. Personally I didn't spot any major or minor flaws in any of the image. The color schemes throughout were bright and even while the black levels looked solid and dark. The God's honest truth is that this is a flat out dead on transfer. Warner deserves some kudos for putting the time and energy into this box office failure.
Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 (English and French) as well as DTS, plus Dolby 2.0 in English. Much like the video portions of the disc, the audio is well above average. Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 audio tracks should give your surround sound player a hefty and through workout. Gunfire zips all around, horses stampede out of nowhere, and things explode with the force of a dozen sticks of napalm. Between the DTS and 5.1 tracks I'd have to recommend the 5.1 track—for some reason I just thought it had a bit more richness to it. Once again Warner has done an excellent job on both tracks and should be commended. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
I'm often surprised at how much work sometimes goes into a film that drummed up terrible reviews and business at the box office. American Outlaws is a case in point: Warner has put a lot of effort into this DVD of American Outlaws. To start off the disc there is a commentary track by director Les Mayfield, writer John Rogers, and editor Michael Tronick. This is a very light track that includes the participants throwing out some fun information about the production and having a great time while watching the movie. Overall these guys seem to be very happy with their end product (as well they should be). This isn't the greatest commentary track ever recorded for DVD, but it is a lot of fun.
Next up are four relatively short featurettes (The Making Of American Outlaws, Creating The Old West, How To Be An Outlaw, Costuming The Cowboys) that total about 25 minutes in length. Each featurette focuses on a particular aspect of the film (i.e., costumes, production, et cetera). A couple of the featurettes seem to be little more than extended trailers for the film, while others include some insightful interviews with director Les Mayfield and actors Colin Farrell and Timothy Dalton, among others. Comprised these short features are a decent if insubstantial look into the making of the film. Also included in this section is a gallery of stills from the movie.
Two deleted scenes in non-anamorphic widescreen are presented, though neither of them were needed in the final film. An extensive gallery of promotional materials is offered that includes both a teaser and theatrical trailer for American Outlaws, two 30-second and two 15-second TV spots, A photo gallery, and some trailers for the films Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Chill Factor, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, The In-Crowd, True Romance, and the movie that started it all, Young Guns.
Finally there's some information on the cast and crew, some storyboards for three scenes, a section with drawings of the costumes, and a layout of the blueprints used to build some of the sets for the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hey, no one's perfect. American Outlaws is a bunch of hooey, but it's a gas. What more are you looking for on a Friday night out with the guys?
Maybe the stars and moon were aligned just right this week. Otherwise, I can't really say why I enjoyed American Outlaws so much. If you like westerns, or are just in the mood to watch some things go "boom" over and over again, then American Outlaws is your kind of flick. Warner has done an excellent job on this disc with great audio and video portionplus a ton of extra features for fans to wade through. Ride 'em cowboy! Yee-haw!
Against everyone's better judgment, I'm letting American Outlaws ride free!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Director Les Mayfield, Co-Writer John Rogers, and Editor Michael Tronick
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