If you're looking for a showcase for emerging Hollywood talent, American Outlaws
is just the ticket. Its handsome young stars, playing Jesse and Frank James and gang, crack wise as if they were in a contemporary high school locker room. Combining authentic costumes and sets with stunt work befitting a Jackie Chan comedy, accompanied by an "Old West" soundtrack that's anything but old and only marginally Western, the film yields a few enjoyable highlights. Seasoned genre buffs, however, will cringe at the movie's clash of visual qualities, as well as the dialogue, which, while not as heinous as that in Maverick
, is on par with Young Guns
in terms of non-period flavor. It's not exactly a testament to the enduring potential of the authentic Western that was realized by Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven
, made barely a decade before.
With all the light-hearted action and character interplay, it's hard to tell if director Les Mayfield (Flubber) is taking the material seriously, but this much is certain: the Jesse James here (played with effortless appeal by Tigerland newcomer Colin Farrell) and his brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) have almost no connection to historical fact. Nor do their fellow farm-raised gang members, the Younger brothers Cole (Scott Caan), Bob (Will McCormack), and Jim (Gregory Smith). (And Jesse's fiancée, played by Ali Larter, looks like she dropped in from a Gap commercial.) The gang's post-Civil War battle against a ruthless railroad baron (Harris Yulin) and his Pinkerton henchman (Timothy Dalton) seems arbitrary, irrational (since farmers typically welcomed railroads, not fought them), and riddled with clichés, turning the movie's bloodless shootouts into another opportunity for pretty-boy preening. --Jeff Shannon