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American Outlaws Reviews

Every generation gets the Western outlaws it deserves, and in this retelling of the exploits of the James-Younger gang, the boys are buff, puppyish and impeccably barbered, ridin' and robbin' and shootin' with the frisky glee of youngsters blowing off some steam. And mindful of the fact that today's audiences just hate an unhappy ending, screenwriters Roderick Taylor and John Rogers cut short the story before things go horribly wrong. Hey, who wants to see a charismatic hero get shot in the back in his own living room? Bummer! The film opens at the end of the Civil War, as Missouri natives Frank (Gabrial Macht) and Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and their cousins Cole (Scott Caan) and Bob Younger (Will McCormack) get in a few last licks at the hated Yankees. They return home to their farms, only to find ruthless railroad men in the employ of robber baron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) busy intimidating the locals into selling their land for a pittance. To back up his regular bullies, Rains has hired Allan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton), whose detectives supply additional muscle. And since the railroaders are all from up North, they're still mighty mad about the war and have it in for men who fought with Southern guerrilla groups, as did the James and Younger boys. No sooner has Jesse rescued the hot-headed Cole from a close encounter with the gallows than the James and Younger farms are torched and Mrs. James (Kathy Bates) killed. Jesse, Frank, Cole, Bob and the youngest Younger, Jim (Gregory Smith), vow to retaliate by targeting Rains's banks, supply trains and railroad tracks, and cultivate public support by giving money to poor farmers, sick children and widow women. Meanwhile, Pinkerton is hell-bent on bringing the gang to justice — after all, he was injured when Cole skipped out on his date with the hangman, so this time it's personal. That the real Jesse James and his kin were considerably less nice than their fictional counterparts hardly merits mention here: While movies like THE LONG RIDERS (1980) and THE GREAT NORTHFIELD, MINNESOTA RAID (1972) aim to be serious considerations of the outlaws' lives and legends, this picture just wants to have fun. Taylor and Rogers do make some effort to situate the outlaws historically, though their most conspicuous achievement lies in alluding regularly to the South's post-Civil War suffering without ever mentioning that unpleasant slavery business.