Texas Rangers

      When a film sits on the shelf at a studio for more than a year, that usually isn't a good sign. When the studio
holds critics' screenings the same day the movie opens to the public, that also doesn't bode well. And while I
would love to be able to say that Texas Rangers was one of those rare instances where the film really didn't
deserve its treatment by the movie company (in this case Dimension, a division of Miramax), I can't. Not that
there aren't admirable things in the finished product, but the movie has a truncated feeling, as if it had
been edited and reedited to within an inch of its life. The Western as a genre seems to be on the wane again,
particularly since Clint Eastwood seems to have hung up his spurs. The same year, there was the enjoyable if
historically inaccurate American Outlaws (which many of my colleagues despised; I rather enjoyed it) which also
suffered a somewhat ignominious fate. Perhaps movie makers should table the genre for a bit until another
writer or director can reinvigorate it as Eastwood did with his Oscar-winning Unforgiven.

Texas Rangers, which is loosely inspired by real-life events, is meant to focus on the last mission of one of the
groups leaders, Leander McNelly (Dylan McDermott). Dying of an unnamed disease (but probably
consumption), McNelly assembles a ragtag group of young wannabe rangers ranging from city slicker Lincoln
Rogers Dunnison (James Van Der Beek) -- who watched as his family was gunned down in cold blood by
outlaw John King Fisher (Alfred Molina) -- to Missouri boy George Durham (Ashton Kutcher) to a former
slave (Usher Raymond) who happens to be an excellent marksman.

Curiously the film is credited on screen as being based on George Durham's book Taming the Nueces Strip:
The Story of McNelly's Rangers, yet the press notes omit that. The screenplay is by Scott Busby and Martin
Copeland (the team who co-wrote 1992's little-seen The Rainbow Warrior), although it was well documented in
the trades that the original script was written by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn) and polished by
Ehren Kruger (Scream 3). Hints of a more intriguing film are dotted throughout -- mostly in underdeveloped
characters like those played by Matt Keeslar and Tom Skerritt. The dialogue is mostly expository and at times
more than a bit laughable. (i.e., "I've got a horse!" Cut to two men riding on a horse.)

As portrayed by Dylan McDermott, McNelly appears to be a complex person, well aware of what he's doing and
the toll it will take. He's a man haunted by his past (there are vague references to a family that left him and his
earlier work as a preacher) but the character feels muted. The same with Van Der Beek's city slicker,
whose part feels somewhat beefed up given his status as something of a teen heartthrob thanks to the TV show
"Dawson's Creek". To his credit, he manages to leave behind that persona somewhat, but he's getting a bit
long in the tooth to keep playing male ingenues. Very few of the others in this densely populated drama get to
create fully-rounded people. Ashton Kutcher is passable as teen with speed but lacking accuracy while Usher
Raymond makes a bit of an impression as does Robert Patrick as McNelly's right hand man. The female
population is represented by Leonor Varela as a Mexican circus performer taken hostage by Fisher and
Rachael Leigh Cook, who is badly miscast as Skerritt's daughter. Others who make appearances are Vincent
Spano, Randy Travis, Jordan Brower, Joe Spano and Marco Leonardi.

As with any Western film, the cinematography by Daryn Okada was accomplished -- down to its referencing the
classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon by including a shot with a rainbow in it. But pretty pictures don't make for a
compelling story. Like All the Pretty Horses, which took a complex story and condensed it to something that
was virtually unrecognizable from its source, Texas Rangers suffers from too much interference. What finally
made it to the screen shows some potential, but it doesn't pay off in the end.

    Rating:                    C-
    MPAA Rating:         PG-13 for western violence
    Running time:         110 mins.
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.