At least the 20th screen version of the criminal career of Jesse James, American Outlaws, is also perhaps the least historically accurate, which wouldn't matter as much if it were more spirited and distinctive. Taking its cues from the Young Guns films rather than, say, the more realistic The Long Riders or Ride with the Devil, the movie presents pretty boy stars as larger-than-life, good-hearted outlaws and races through a lot of storyline without making much of an impression.
Colin Farrell, liable to be a huge star in the next five years, is a handsome, devil-may-care Jesse, taking the reins between his teeth and firing with both hands, but he has little material to work with, while Timothy Dalton does a very strange Scotch accent as Allen Pinkerton, the security expert hired by the evil railroad to bring in the James-Younger gang. It has the full complement of brawls, robberies, escapes, battles, train wrecks, explosions and barroom roistering--including the riding-a-horse-through-a-window bit featured in all earlier Jesse James movies--but feels like a cramped TV movie rather than an epic biopic. Attempting to be a crowd-pleaser, it goes for a happy ending rather than the tragic shot-in-the-back finish, but that just means that its high spirits feel forced and unconvincing.
On the DVD:American Outlaws has a nice range of extras for such a minor film, including two deleted scenes, five behind the scenes "featurettes" (one not-very-hidden "hidden feature") and a commentary track by director Les Mayfield, writer John Rogers and editor Michael Tronick that may be a bit too pleased with itself, but offers a lively and entertaining account of the making of the film. --Kim Newman