Review: American Outlaws

Les Mayfield’s film is brain dead but fun, an Abercrombie & Fitched look at frontier life.

American Outlaws
Photo: Warner Bros.

Les Mayfield’s American Outlaws is brain dead but fun, an Abercrombie & Fitched look at frontier life. Loud and narratively muddled, the film attempts a postmodern operation, homing in on a post-Civil War Jesse James (Colin Farrell) defending Missouri from a railroad company hellbent on expanding west. He’s a mama’s boy itching to mend Confederate wounds, a ne’er-do-well Robin Hood seeking to expose the morally corrupt, colonialist ways of an overeager government. The characterizations are predictable (prepubescent lads dream of riding with the big boys and Timothy Dalton’s Allan Pinkerton comes to respect the loveable Jesse by film’s end), and for what’s essentially an MTV-look at the past, it’s strangely undersexed (nary a breast or ass shot throughout). One fight sequence is served martial-arts style, with dynamite shattering some Yankee pride. Equally explosive: Kathy Bates plays God-loving Ma James to humorous effect while Ali Larter serves up feminism Little House on the Prairie-style. American Outlaws knows how to have fun, especially when Will McCormack’s Bob Younger aims to drum up his most-wanted notoriety. Fore sure, there are worse ways for teenagers to connect with history than this cheeky, cornball paean to James and his pals robbing banks and breaking out of chains.

Score: 
 Cast: Colin Farrel, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Timothy Dalton, Gabriel Macht, Will McCormack, Gregory Smith, Kathy Bates  Director: Les Mayfield  Screenwriter: John Rogers, Roderick Taylor  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 100 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2001  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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