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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » American Outlaws
American Outlaws
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // December 4, 2001
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 4, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

During the past few years, the Western genre has come back for a very slight return (see "Last Man Standing" or "Quick and the Dead" in the mid-90's), but the latest attempt at the genre's return has done almost embarassingly badly. "Texas Rangers", a film starring James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek" and Rachel Leigh Cook, is opening this weekend on only a handful of screens after sitting on the shelf for over a year. Also this week comes "American Outlaws", a film that's not entirely bad, but which sticks to the stereotypical elements of the genre so tightly the film often feels like it's simply checking off plot points.

The film revolves around the James/Younger gang: Jesse and Frank James (Colin Farrell and Gabriel Macht); Cole, Bob and Jim Younger (Scott Caan, Will McCormack and Gregory Smith) and Comanche Tom (Nathaniel Arcand). Once the group returns from the war, they find that they're faced with a different obstacle: the railroad is coming through their town and many of their homes are square in the way. They don't want to leave, but after the railroad makes it known that they want their way, the boys begin to strike back.

Rather than simply going after the source, they go from bank to bank and steal the railroad's money to give back to the community. This is fun once, this is also slow when it's done over and over in almost the same fashion. There's also some fairly weak villians: Timothy Dalton plays the lead railroad bad-guy rather blandly. Even Ali Larter is wasted in the role of Jesse's new wife; she's simply asked to look gorgeous (she certainly succeeds there) and occasionally offer a few lines of dialogue.

As for the not particularly witty banter, the jokey dialogue between the boys is occasionally funny, but comes off as flat more often than it should. The performances aren't too bad, but no one really stands out as very exceptional. Colin Farrell, who was "found" in Joel Schumacher's "Tigerland", is quite good in the lead, though.

Looking back, the interesting thing about "American Outlaws" is that it's so firmly in the middle. Harmless, but not memorable, it goes from point A to point B in a fashion that just barely kept me interested. Not bad nor good, it seems satisfied to simply be generic.


VIDEO: Warner Brothers presents "American Outlaws" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation offers particularly good sharpness and detail, as the picture remained consistently well-defined and crisp. Apparently, according to the box, this is a "director approved" transfer, as well.

There's really not much amatter with the presentation. Some slight edge enhancement is noticable now and then, as well as a trace or two of hardly-visible pixelation. Print flaws are kept to a minimum, as the picture hardly displayed anything beyond a few minor specks. Colors are generally pretty subdued throughout the picture, but there's a few minor brighter moments. Colors overall looked accurate and natural, with no problems. This is certainly fine work.

SOUND: In quite a suprise, "American Outlaws" is presented by Warner Brothers in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, rare for Warner Brothers, who hasn't offered a DTS presentation for a theatrical release since a group of special editions a couple years ago. The film's audio isn't consistently an assault, but it came across as a bit more active during the action than I'd expected. The battle sequence during the opening of the film is probably the most impressive, as gunfire and various battle sounds are impressively placed around the viewer, sounding convincingly clear and enveloping. There are a few other action sequences scattered throughout the movie, but otherwise, the Trevor Rabin score often takes its place in the rears when there's not action going on.

Audio quality was quite good, as the score came through clearly and crisply, while sound effects sounded natural and realistic. There was also the occasional instance of deep bass during some of the action sequences. Dialogue also came through well, sounding clear and easily understood. As for the differences between DTS and Dolby Digital, there really weren't that many - if anything, the DTS soundtrack did seem to present slightly greater detail and clarity during the action sequences, but the differences really were very small. Still, it was appreciated that Warner has included DTS and hopefully, they will continue to do so.

MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art.


Commentary: This is a commentary from director Les Mayfield and editor Michael Tronick and co-writer John Rogers. The track is often funnier than the picture itself, as writer Rogers is able to come up with some particularly funny comments about the picture. Mayfield also does a fine job discussing the production in an amusing way, going into the obstacles (100+ degree heat) and other stories that happened during filming. It's an enjoyable track and actually, it's one of those instances where I found the commentary more entertaining than the movie it was focused on.

Featurettes: There are four featurettes included: "The Making Of 'American Outlaws'", which is a general look at the production (9 min); "Creating The Old West", which offers behind-the-scenes views of the production design (6 min), "How To Be An Outlaw" (5 min), which shows how the actors (and actress) had to be trained to ride horses and do other "cowboy/cowgirl"ish things. Last, but not least, there's "Costuming The Cowboys", which is a 5-minute look at the film's clothing. Also in this section are stills.

Deleted Scenes: 2 deleted scenes are offered here, but don't include commentary or any description as to why they were deleted.

Publicity Gallery: This section includes the film's teaser and theatrical trailers along with 4 TV spots, a photo gallery and a section of additional Morgan Creek DVD trailers ("Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Chill Factor", "The In Crowd" (which has one of the funniest commentaries ever), "Robin Hood: Price Of Thieves", "True Romance" and "Young Guns II").

Artwork: This section includes galleries for storyboards, costumes and blueprints.

Also: DVD-ROM content including screenplay viewer with storyboards and the film's original website.

also: The only other extra is a trailer.

Final Thoughts: "American Outlaws" was a dissapointment; while not bad, it's nothing memorable or that entertaining. Warner Brothers has released a very DVD, though - it offers terrific audio/video quality and some strong supplements. May be worthy of a rental for fans of the genre or actors.

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