American Outlaws (2001) Movie Review

To call “American Outlaws” a western is making a mockery of all the westerns that’s come before it. Oh no, “American Outlaws” isn’t a western, it’s a rather simpleton movie where the characters happen to wear 1800s-era clothing and everyone wears a gun holster. Instead of high schools, you have the Wild West, and instead of fast sport cars, you have horses. Other than that, everything is the same in “American Outlaws” as if they were in, say, one of the “Scream” movie, or any of Freddie Prinze Jr.’s movies for that matter.

“American Outlaws” is the umpteenth retelling of the Jesse James legend, the Missouri (pronounced “miss-sour-rha”, natch) bank robber who became legendary and was generally considered the “Robin Hood” of the South, since he supposedly robbed from the rich gave to poor farmers. In this version, the James boys have returned from the Civil War with their buddies the Younger boys, to find that not everything is right back home. It seems the greedy railroad people and the greedy bankers (is there ever any other kind in westerns?) are pushing poor Missouri farmers off their ranches in the name of progress. To right this blatant injustice, the James and Youngers become outlaws. Hence the title.

There is also very little authenticity to the movie, and I doubt if the filmmakers cared about such trivial things. In fact, according to the movie, the Civil War was all fun and games and the North were back shooters and the South were actually the good guys. Frank James, a poor Missouri boy who lives on a farm with his ma, can quote Shakespeare and knows the finer points of land laws. Allan Pinkerton, the famed detective, was in actuality a thug who pushed poor farmers off their land and twirled his mustache to indicate how evil he is. Repeating rifles were plentiful during the Civil War (which makes me wonder why everyone was using muskets, but that’s just my brain thinking nonsense again).

Also, Jesse James invented the shoulder holster and actually wore 4 shoulder holsters simultaneously. (Those guns must weigh plenty!) The Missouri farmers, probably the most red-necked “rednecks” of the Southerners, invited Indians to their table freely because they (the Indians) also “kill Yankees,” hence they’re a-okay in their book. Oh, and mousse and hairspray were plentiful, otherwise how else could you explain the perfect hairstyles of the actors?

I’m a big fan of Westerns, but there’s no western here, just a high school movie transferred to the Wild West. There are some minor fun to be had, like how everyone keeps calling Jesse James by his full name. (Of course contemporary Americans wouldn’t know who you were talking about if you just said “Jesse” or “James,” but in fact you had to say his full name in order to indicate who you were referring to.)

Ali Larter plays Colin Farrell’s love interest, but who cares, really? Larter shows little ability to act but my is she easy on the eyes.

Les Mayfield (director) / Roderick Taylor, John Rogers (screenplay)
CAST: Colin Farrell …. Jesse James
Scott Caan …. Cole Younger
Ali Larter …. Zee Mimms

Buy American Outlaws on DVD