American Outlaws (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When I saw The Skulls, I thought I had gone to heaven. Surely, I thought, this film is the very apotheosis of dumb scripts. Everything it could get wrong, it did get wrong. There wasn't a believable minute in the film. It was one for the ages, and it could never be challenged. Standing before it, as a lover of bad writing, I stood as a lover of good sculpture must have stood before the statue of David when Michelangelo pulled away the drapes to reveal it. I knew that if mankind lasted forever and a day, that I had seen its finest hour in my field of interest.

(By the way, the guy who wrote The Skulls also wrote Rollerball, which may never be released at the rate it is currently progressing)

Luckily for my sense of humor, while the upper limit of human intelligence appears to have a ceiling, stupidity has no bounds. American Outlaws may not be as dumb as The Skulls, but it's not from lack of tryin'.

Gosh, those James boys, what cut-ups they were. Why, they'd rob a bank, then sit around a campfire, and toast some marshmallows that they bought from 7-Eleven, and have a good old laugh about the events of the day. And then they'd exchange some pleasant, literate banter about their status. Should they call it the James Gang, the James-Younger gang? The Younger-James Gang? Certainly not the latter, because everyone would ask them whatever happened to the OLDER James Gang. And then some members of the gang would pitch a blue fit because their names were getting misspelled in the papers, or their wanted posters didn't look like them, or the bounties on their heads weren't as high as the rewards for the other guys in the gang. But, shucks, they had fun.

Yup, then after a discussion, they'd turn up the radio, listen to some good rock tunes, and catch some shut-eye. 

NUDITY REPORT

none. Ali Larter swims in a kinda-sorta transparent dress.

Heck, they had a lot to do the next day. First of all, there was keeping their capped teeth in perfect condition, not an easy task in 19th century Missoorah. Then there was that dry-look they preferred in their hairstyles, which took a lot of time in the morning routine after a hard night of sleeping in pig vomit. And then there was the two or three hours they spent in the gyms every day with their personal trainers, to maintain their buff physiques. Yup, that 19th century Old West was a time of great luxury for the simple folk, and they took the time to kick back and enjoy it.

But it wasn't all fun and games, nosireebob. Sometimes they'd be captured by the Army or the Pinkertons, and led to the gallows. Then they'd have to have their hair done by someone else while their hands were bound, waiting for the inevitable daring last-minute rescue from their fellow gang members, followed by a manly exchange of high-fives, and an outraged fax to the local army commander.

At one point in this film, the Pinkertons have Jesse chained up like Hannibal Lecter, but heck, that just makes 'im mad, so he kills about twelve or thirteen hundred of them. I would tell you how he escapes from the chains, but you'd think I was kidding, and there's no way I could think up something less likely than what really happened. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Full-length director and writer commentary

  • Making-of featurette

  • deleted scenes

So you see the essential historical lesson here. They weren't the James-Younger Gang, but the James-Younger Band. They were, in fact, the very first boy band. There was the smart one, and the shy one, and the born leader, and the one with a fiery temper. And you would never catch these guys in those dowdy old cowboy hats, nosiree. Hats leave those messy sweatband marks on your hair when you take 'em off to flash your smile.

I'm not sure how to grade this film. If it was meant to be a Western adventure, clearly it is a D or an E. On the other hand, if it was meant to be a parody of the Western genre, ala Blazing Saddles, then it succeeded somewhat, because I laughed at quite a few things in the movie. The only problem is, I don't think that's when I was supposed to laugh.

I think it was actually meant to be a jokey buddy Western, a modernization of Butch Cassidy for the MTV generation, in the same spirit as Shanghai Noon. Unfortunately, the great charismatic stars needed to pull that off were not available. Do this again with George Clooney and Owen Wilson, and it might have enough panache to connect, but not with these MTV people. 

By the way, do you remember when I reviewed the brilliant Tigerland and said Colin Farrell was a sure bet to become a star? Oops. He was Jesse in this film. I still have hope for him, but that may not prove to be one of my better predictions. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: one star. Ebert 1/4, Berardinelli 1.5/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 14% positive reviews, 6% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.7, which indicates that the critics' opinion was not shared by everyone, because that's more like two and a half stars.
  • With their dollars ... You CAN go broke underestimating the taste of the American public. Made for $35 million dollars, it grossed only $13 million, despite a 2400 screen rollout.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. It has some amusing elements, but the film is just plain lightheaded, unless it is intentional self-parody. I have to say, though, that like The Skulls it is more watchable than some much more intelligent movies because you tend to be transfixed by the sheer audacity of it, as if it was daring its audience to prove Mencken wrong, to show that someone could go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

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