After ”Young Guns” and ”Young Guns II,” ”Posse” and ”The Newton Boys”, the blandification of the puppy-stud Western reaches its nadir with American Outlaws, a movie spun out of the dubious proposition that Jesse James, Cole Younger, and the rest of their legendary gang were clean-scrubbed righteous Robin Hoods who took up robbing banks in order to save a bunch of poor Missouri folk from the big bad U.S. gov’ment, which intended to burn down their farms and ram the railroad through their land. By now, about the only way to imagine this genre getting much worse is if they did a remake of ”The Wild Bunch” starring Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and the Hanson brothers.
As Jesse, Colin Farrell, the young actor who first won attention for the far grittier ”Tigerland,” still has his black-Irish cock-of-the-walk swarthiness, but here, cast as a noble junior outlaw, he’s held back by his reedy light voice, which lends him a facile Beverly Hills charisma reminiscent of George Clooney at his most self-satisfied. Jesse and his gang get along so famously that there’s virtually no rivalry, or interest, in their joshing camaraderie. These guys aren’t real expressive, either. Early on, after the James brothers’ pious saint of a mother (Kathy Bates) is killed in a government ambush, the two cradle her in their arms, and from the look of extremely mild distress on their faces, I half expected one of them to say ”Bummer!”
That the movie has obviously been fashioned for the summer teen audience raises a question: Does the Game Boy generation really have the slightest appetite for horses, saloon banter, or romance that is literally corseted? As the love interest, Ali Larter seems to be starring in ”Little Minx on the Prairie,” but then, she’s really no more laughable than anything else in this bogusly wholesome six-gun dud.