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(2001) (Dylan McDermott, James Van Der Beek) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: A legendary Texas Ranger leads a group of young, inexperienced men into battle against various 19th century renegade outlaws.
It's 1875 Texas and bands of renegade outlaws are pillaging towns, murdering townsfolk and stealing their cattle that they then sell across the border in Mexico. Accordingly, the governor of Texas orders the former state lawmen, the Texas Rangers, re-commissioned and wants their former leader and local preacher, Leander McNelly (DYLAN McDERMOTT), to head them up once more to take care of this problem.

Having lost his family to the bandits and dying of consumption, Leander is hesitant, but eventually agrees, and begins assembling, with his assistants Sergeant John Armstrong (ROBERT PATRICK) and Frank Bones (RANDY TRAVIS), a new group of lawmen. Among them are Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (JAMES VAN DER BEEK) and George Durham (ASHTON KUTCHER), both of whom are now orphans due to the work of the outlaws, as well as Scipio (USHER RAYMOND), a freed slave who wants to prove he's better as a rifleman than as a scout.

As the group sets out to find the outlaws and their leader, John King Fisher (ALFRED MOLINA), they have various encounters with small bands of bandits, and eventually rescue Perdita (LEONOR VARELA), a Mexican circus acrobat from their grasp. Needing to regroup at the estate of Leander's friend, Richard Dukes (TOM SKERRITT), Lincoln and George become enamored with his pretty and high-minded daughter, Caroline (RACHEL LEIGH COOK).

From that point on, the Texas Rangers must overcome long odds, deception and various perilous encounters as they try to find and stop both Fisher and his men.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
While revenge may indeed be a dish best served cold and is as often justified as it's not, it's certainly subject to moral, ethical and legal concerns and scrutiny. Nevertheless, it has and probably always will be part of human nature.

Accordingly, not surprisingly, and as long as there are cinematic villains and wrongdoing, the same will always probably be true regarding its use as a catalyst and driving force in the movies. That's particularly true in Westerns that seem to feed off such motives and emotions, and the likes of Clint Eastwood and others clearly made their mark playing such gruff, vindictive characters.

Revenge certainly plays a major part of "Texas Rangers," the latest, but certainly not newest Western to hit the market. Reportedly sitting on the shelf for nearly two years, the film has finally made its way to the theaters with little or no fanfare and no advance press screenings for the critics.

That's pretty much for good reason as the finished product has the feel of a hack job that has trotted out all of the standard Western elements and clichés, but consequently has done little if anything original or interesting with them.

Based on the George Durham book "Taming the Nueces Strip, the Story of McNelly's Rangers," regarding the real life Rangers - of the 19th century variety and not the major league baseball team for anyone who might be confused - it's difficult to figure out exactly where and/or at whom one should point a critical finger.

It could be at director Steve Miner ("Lake Placid," "Halloween: H20") or screenwriters Scott Busby and Martin Copeland (who collaborated on "The Rainbow Warrior") who have done nothing to re-imagine the genre, falling far short of the contemporary influenced "Young Guns" or "American Outlaws" (neither of which were terrific films but were far better than this).

Some of the problem could also stem from the stiff acting and miscasting that either unnecessarily ground the production or distracts the viewer. That's particularly true in the case of Ashton Kutcher ("Dude, Where's My Car?" "Down to You") who single-handedly makes a great deal of the film unbearable to watch as he ruins every moment in which he appears with his "Dude, "Where's My '70s Show" persona that neither fits in nor does anything positive for the film.

While the problem could stem from all of the above and more, anytime a film sits on the shelf for a long time, one gets suspicious that "outside forces" - namely someone high up at the studio or hired by them - have been tinkering, reassembling and/or butchering the original product.

The hope, of course, is that such action and modifications will "save" the picture or at least make it more marketable. Unfortunately, and if that's the case here, the result was not successful in either regard. Choppy, fragmented and conspicuously lacking in certain scenes and/or connective material needed to tie together successive action and behavior, one can only hope and assume that the "butcher" caused this mess and not the original filmmakers. Then again, this certainly wouldn't be the first time the latter has occurred. Whatever the case, the film is a less than engaging experience where even the requisite shootouts and scenery are staged and shot in a boring fashion.

Hampered by inconsistent motivation and behavior, not to mention some stilted and/or hokey dialogue, the performers don't fare much better. Neither Dylan McDermott ("Three to Tango," TV's "The Practice") nor James Van Der Beek ("Varsity Blues," TV's "Dawson's Creek") can do much with their characters, although they obviously put some effort into playing them.

Alfred Molina ("Chocolat," "Magnolia") is flat as the one-dimensional, nefarious villain, Usher Raymond ("Light It Up," "She's All That") appears as the wisecracking, but efficient-with-a-gun black character, and Leonor Varela ("The Tailor of Panama," "The Man in the Iron Mask") shows up as the typically sultry but untrustworthy Mexican temptress.

Rachel Leigh Cook ("Josie and the Pussycats," "Antitrust") gets far less screen time than some of her teen fans are probably expecting or hoping for, as her character barely appears as part of a romantic subplot that seems to have been a victim of the butcher. Meanwhile, Robert Patrick ("Spy Kids," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day") and Randy Travis ("The Rainmaker," "Fire Down Below") are decent as the older lawmen, with the country singer turned actor coming the closest to capturing the Eastwood persona, although that's probably because he doesn't speak much.

Certain to drop from theaters faster than a slow gunslinger hits the ground, the film brings nothing new or interesting to the genre or the overall theme of revenge. Accordingly, "Texas Rangers" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed November 30, 2001 / Posted December 1, 2001

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