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American Outlaws

American Outlaws on DVD

Yet another take on the legend of Jesse James is brought to us care of American Outlaws.

The funny thing about Westerns, is that they seem to be either really good or really bad. There isn't much of a happy medium.

Unfortunately, American Outlaws falls into the "really bad" category. It's basically every other Western thrown together into one, without creativity or entertainment value.

It follows the adventures of Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and his gang of thugs as they rob banks and have a good time, kind of a "Bonnie and Clyde of the old West." It seems that a corrupt railroad baron wants to build the rail across Jesse's property, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. So Jesse bands together with his brother and friends to fight the evil tycoon.

They pull a series of bank robberies, but only steal money that they know belongs to the railroad. They become famous, and are soon being stalked by Detective Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton).

One of the problems with the movie is that it has no concept of time. One minute they're robbing a bank, and the next minute it's eight months later. But of course, there's no way to tell there's been a jump in time except to listen closely to the dialogue.

But of course, the main problem is that it just isn't very good. I like Westerns, and when done properly, they can be great. American Outlaws tries to be hip, rather than entertaining. Unfortunately, it's under the impression that casting young people who can't act will automatically make it hip. Aside from Colin Farrell and the veterans, most of the cast is pretty bad. Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Gabriel Macht, Gregory Smith and Will McCormack are all completely miscast, and damage the film.

To make matters worse, the climax couldn't possibly be any more clichéd if it tried. It involves a train, the good guy, and the bad guy. You can probably piece together the rest for yourself.

If you have a hankerin' for some Western watchin', do yourself a favor and watch one of the classics, many of which we review elsewhere in our DVD section.

The DVD, oddly enough, is better than probably 80% of those released by Warner Bros. If every Warners DVD got this kind of treatment, it would be a more wonderful world.

For starters, this is one of the few Warner titles so far to feature a DTS audio track. It's nice to see, but it would have been nicer to see on a better movie. Aside from DTS, there is also the usual Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound is great, and it really comes out in certain scenes: the climax for instance, as bad as it is, sounds really good.

The picture quality is equally fantastic. It's presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (compatible with 16x9 TV's) and looks much better than a lot of DVD movies coming out these days, and definitely better than we're used to from many of Warner's DVD titles.

Extras include a commentary (which is actually quite good - a hundred times better than the movie) with director Les Mayfield, co-writer John Rogers and editor Michael Tronick. There are three behind-the-scenes vignettes, entitled "The Making of American Outlaws," "Creating the Old West," and "How To Be an Outlaw." They're short, and are typical behind-the-scenes pieces, but they do manage to offer some insight into how the film was made.

Not why it was made, unfortunately...

Lesser extras include two deleted scenes, storyboards, production stills, a publicity gallery, artwork, and the trailer.

Warner made a great disc. IF only they'd make DVD's that are this good for movies that actually deserve it.

American Outlaws, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
94 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) 16X9 enhanced, 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS
Starring Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Kathy Bates and Timothy Dalton
Produced by James G. Robinson, Screenplay by Roderick Taylor and John Rogers
Directed by Les Mayfield


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Updated May 13, 2006