If the idea of miscast early-twentysomethings starring in an MTV-type Western sounds vaguely familiar, it may have been because American Outlaws, for whatever reason, reused the same formula. My use of the past tense in "reused" was intentional, despite the fact that Texas Rangers wouldn't limp onto 17 screens for its lackluster opening weekend until several months after American Outlaws' release. Skittish studio execs couldn't settle on a release date, pushing it back from its April 2000 slot to late August, then again to May 2001. By that point, American Outlaws was poised to hit theaters, and Miramax and Warner Bros. continually shuffled their teen westerns about that Spring, each company attempting to get the leg up on the other. American Outlaws wound up being delayed until August 2001, and Miramax decided for whatever reason to hold off until the following November, when, dear readers, Texas Rangers at long last made its big-screen debut. This was close to two years after its initial release date and closing in on three years since filming began.
Dimension's gambit did not pay off. American Outlaws played on 2,348 screens, but still only managed to recoup a little over a third of its $35 million budget theatrically. By comparison, Texas Rangers, when dumped in 400 theaters nationwide, grossed right at $625,000. That doesn't even come close to covering James Van Der Beek's $3 million salary, let along the film's $38 million price tag. No matter how utterly embarrassing a film's theatrical take may be, a release on video and DVD is inevitable. Accordingly, the troubled Texas Rangers will hit store shelves this April, nearly two years to the day that it was originally slated to hit theaters.
Texas Rangers is based on George Durham's "Taming Of The Neuces Strip: The Story Of McNelly's Rangers", examining the revival of the Rangers following the Civil War. Leander McNelly (Dylan McDermott) is a former preacher silently suffering from some untold fatal illness, hellbent on restoring both order to Texas and glory to the tattered reputation of the Texas Rangers. Though he and a pair of experienced gunslingers (Randy Travis and Robert Patrick) are sufficiently qualified, they're severely outmanned and turn to green recruits for assistance. Among them are Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (James Van Der Beek), a young man who saw his father dunned down before him by bandits, exuberant,blithering idiot George Durham (Ashton Kutcher), a shat-upon black man forced by his prejudiced superiors to leave his rifles behind to scout (Usher Raymond), and, like, twenty-four others. The Rangers take it upon themselves to capture a gang of cattle-rustling bandits, though they soon find themselves at the unpleasant end of the Mexican army's barrels.
Of the most notoriously delayed movies of recent memory, a lot that also includes Original Sin, Jason X, and Lost Souls, I believe Texas Rangers is the record holder. Its exceedingly late arrival isn't the only strike against the film either. There were no advance screenings for critics, a surefire sign of a total lack of studio confidence, and publicity and promotion were kept to a bare minimum. I'd also had the misfortune of sitting through American Outlaws twice, and the surface similarities between the two movies didn't leave me brimming with enthusiasm. Is Texas Rangers, as stunt coordinator John Scott put it, "unreleaseable"? Though I went in with mind-bogglingly low expectations, I'd say not. That's not to say, of course, that Texas Rangers is some sort of unjustly overlooked gem.
The scant 81 minute runtime and an excessively large cast leave any trace of character development in the dust. The caricatures...err...characters seem to have been cut from the Dudley Do-Right cloth, particularly Alfred Molina, whose talents are wasted as the film's Snidely Whiplash. I half expected a scene where he ties Rachael Leigh Cook (the film's obligatory love interest, though she's hardly present) to a railroad track. Some of the dialogue from supporting character before the first significant Rangers shoot-out had me clutching my stomach in pain, but the worst offenders were mercifully killer or practically cut-out of the remainder of the movie. The more experienced Robert Patrick and Randy Travis put in performances that leave their younger co-stars trailing noticeably behind. Slap a cowboy hat ad strip away any trace of slang from essentially any of the characters Ashton Kutcher has every played, and you'll have some idea of what his character is like here. James Van Der Beek is a likeable enough guy but seems out of place here, and Usher Raymond...well, he could stand to hone his chops some more before taking on a role of this size. Steve Miner (House, the first two Friday the 13th sequels, Soul Man, and Warlock, to name a few, and I'm one of those rare folks who will admit to enjoying Lake Placid) is a director whose body of work appeals to me more than a significant portion of the movie-going public, though his work here is wholly unmemorable.
Texas Rangers is unfocused, underdeveloped, and miscast. Admittedly, after-the-fact studio tampering may have played some role in that, but the movie is so inherently flawed that I can't imagine an extended, recut version offering a considerable improvement. Texas Rangers is not particularly awful or unwatchable, not striking me as any more or less mediocre than the vast majority of what's typically released nowadays. I enjoyed it more than American Outlaws, but I still can't envision myself saddling up for another ride with the Texas Rangers anytime in the conceivable future.
Video: There's just something about Westerns that lend themselves to a wide frame, and Texas Rangers is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The most glaring flaw is haloing around high contrast areas. I should probably preface this by saying that I am not the sort of reviewer that typically spots haloes. Perhaps I'm not as discerning as the reviewers at DVD File, and I'm sure my equipment pales by comparison. My point is that if I spot edge enhancement (or at least, what is often referred to as edge enhancement by DVD enthusiasts), it's pretty severe. This is only an issue intermittently, but when edge haloes appear, they're nearly impossible to miss. Other than that, the presentation is gorgeous. Though the film collected dust on the shelf for nearly two years, the majority of it, save a few specks here and there, has been cleaned off for this DVD release. The thin veil of grain present at times was not a concern, and the film was compressed well enough so as not to exaggerate its effects. The image is detailed, colorful, and altogether very three-dimensional. Texas Rangers looks quite nice, but Buena Vista may want to ease up for future release on whatever it was that caused that extreme haloing effect.
Audio: Texas Rangers starts off with a bang, literally. One of the first gun shots is strikingly loud, and from that moment, I knew I would be in for an aural treat. The soundstage really comes to life during the film's several shootouts, contributing greatly to the excitement of those sequences and leaving me wishing that there were more such scenes in the movie. Otherwise, surrounds remain largely idle, even lacking the sort of ambiance one would expect from a film where nearly every scene takes place outdoors. The rears do nicely reinforce the score by Trevor Rabin, who would later go on to compose the music for American Outlaws. Gun shots, explosions, and the galloping of horses are rich, full, and accompanied by a considerable amount of subwoofer activity. Dialogue never suffers, remaining clear and understandable for the duration. As is to be expected from a recent theatrical release, there is no hiss or distortion of any kind.
Supplements: The insubstantial "Behind The Badge" offers the sort of fluffy interviews and scattered moments of behind the scenes footage that DVD buffs have come to expect from promotional featurettes. There is also a pair of storyboard comparisons for an alternate, unfilmed opening as well as one of the very few exhilarating scenes in the movie. Rounding out the supplements are the ubiquitous trailer (16x9 enhanced, for those keeping score) and a large, well-organized still gallery.
Conclusion: Dimension Films, for all intents and purposes, wrote Texas Rangers off as a loss when the film finally saw a brief theatrical release a couple of years after its completion. Their reaction is understandable, as Texas Rangers is somewhat of a mess, and the DVD's faux-rental-pricing of $29.99 makes a recommendation even more difficult. Though the presentation is first-rate, there's nothing about this film or its DVD release that warrants anything more than a rental.