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IN SHORT: What popcorn movies are all about [Rated PG-13 for western violence. 94 minutes]
American Outlaws was originally titled "Jesse James," a more accurate and recognizable title. Please note: Any name recognition and/or connection to historical accuracy is a coincidence and because of that, we'll warn you advance, Cranky is about to get very silly.
Our heroes: Jesse James (Colin Farrell, click for CrankyCritic® StarTalk) and his brother Frank (Gabriel Macht), their cousin Cole Younger (Scott Caan) and Cole's brothers Bob (Will McCormack) and Jimmy (Gregory Smith), and their trusted Indian companion Comanche Tom (Nathaniel Arcand).
On the opposing team: the evil railroad baron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) and his brutal lackey Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton). Y'all are invited to sing along (to the Theme from The Beverly Hillbillies, of course) . . .
Yep, it's good to be biggest, baddest bad guy around. Not only does wife Zerelda "Z" Mimms (Ali Larter) have looks, she mans a mean cannon and runs a right large gang o' bad guys, too. Ain't Hollywood grand?
Or maybe we're lying through our teeth like most evil, bank robbing fiends are said to do. Maybe Jesse James gets shot from behind, his brains splattered all across the mountain shack where he's hiding out. Either ending would be fitting for the flat out popcorn movie that American Outlaws is. Absolutely silly (in the middle of a bank robbery Jesse and Cole argue as to whose name should headline the gang). Totally politically correct (Comanche Tom and a femme gang leader, indeed). Fully worthy of the extra large popcorn with a heaping topping of golden stuff.
Like all the stories of Jesse James and his gang, this one is a tall tale. A very tall tale, filled with petty jealousy and rivalries. We begin on the final day of the Civil War, as Confederates Jesse and Frank James and Cole and Bob Younger fight their final battle. War over, they head home to their farms in Missouri. They find Union forces in their hometown, Liberty, and railroad men trying to buy out their mother's farm for a paltry two bucks an acre. The railroad doesn't need their land for their tracks. They want as much land on either side of their right of way, the greedy, imperialist Eastern establishment types that they are. Mom (Kathy Bates) checks in with Jesus -- she's got a direct line dontcha know -- who tells her not to sell. The neighbors won't sell, either, so the Army starts hanging people. When that doesn't work and the Army moves on, the railroad bigwigs send in Pinkerton Agency thugs to bomb out the farmers.
That doesn't sit well with any of the folk in Liberty. The James and Younger boys in particular. So they continue their civil war, attacking railroad supply lines and the banks that hold payroll cash. And for every incredibly silly petty feud or dispute there is a gunfight or a stampede or something equally fun.
The leading men are pretty enough for the dating ladies. For the men with them, there is Ali Larter, whose introduction is so fit for a television slow motion shampoo spot that it got laughs in our audience. Every character got laughs, in one way or another. American Outlaws is ridiculously enjoyable. We enjoyed it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to American Outlaws, he would have paid . . .
If you don't walk out in disgust, thinking "This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen," then you may enjoy American Outlaws, too. We're so confident in the power of its ultimate silliness that we broke one of our cardinal rules. One of those two endings described is real. If you start laughing at this flick, you won't care that you know.
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