Vigilante revenge flicks tend to be like pizza; even when they're bad they're still pretty good. They get the old right vs. wrong juices flowing and everyone leaves the theater satisfied with the thrill ride over, and having seen justice done to the bad guys.
It's a tried-and-true formula that has spawned such drive-in classics as "Death Wish" and "Ms. .45", and given us big budget franchises like the "Die Hard" series. Keep the action and anger going and you usually have a sure-fire winner.
It's quite a task to make a boring one, yet the new British film "Outlaw" weakly swims across the pond and lands on our shores with, seemingly, the sole intent of giving viewers a migraine and then putting them to sleep. The latest "white geezer" thriller -- as they say in jolly old England -- is a certifiable loony, unclear in its intent and spastic in its execution.
Directed by Nick Love, who delivered the halfway decent soccer hooligan melodrama "The Football Factory," and the flashy '80's era gangster romp "The Business," "Outlaw" is a tepid attempt at a statement movie and fares even worse as straight exploitation fare. Peopled with a capable cast, including the venerable Bob Hoskins, the film jumps the rails early on and becomes a veritable runaway train of ridiculousness.
The usually fine Sean Bean (Boromir in "Lord of the Rings") plays Bryant, a returning Iraqi war vet who comes home to a cheating wife and jeering young "punks" who have no regard for his service to his country. He holes up in a hotel where he meets Simon (a twitchy, over-the-top Sean Harris). Simon is a voyeuristic sociopath who spies on the guests and rants about the moral breakdown of society. This unlikely pair decide to start an underground vigilante force, with Bryant as their trainer. They set about recruiting office worker Gene, who has nightmares about beat-downs by thugs and is, gasp, bullied by a co-worker who verbally assaults him and thumps his ears; Cedric, a barrister whose pregnant wife has been murdered by henchmen of a mobster he is prosecuting; and young Sandy, who was beaten for being a "nonce" and whose attackers have gone free on a technicality. They will right the wrongs that have been done to them by an uncaring system.
Here, one would expect exciting training sequences where these disparate victims are whipped into shape, but instead one is treated to tirades by Bryant that have all the subtlety of an episode of "The O'Reilly Factor," culminating in the whole happy gang getting the scones beaten out of them in a barfight. They laugh and bond as they check out their wounds, and are then suddenly ready for the task at hand. I can't bring myself to bore you with the rest of the silly plot except to say Hoskins plays a disgruntled cop who feeds the lads info because the force has failed him and elderly women are being set afire by roving gangs who never get arrested because of the paperwork and blah, blah, blah, zzzzzz.
The action is non-existent, the plot is threadbare, the twist near the end is predictable, and one character's final act is unbelievable. Add to this the seizure inducing camerawork that is supposed to heighten the tension and you have a mess that not only hurts the brain, but the eyes as well.
"Outlaw" had the potential to be an updating of the great '70s films like "Taxi Driver," where a creeping distrust in the government to protect us and a feeling of societal decay manifests itself in a violent catharsis. But instead the film falls on its face with no real conviction at its center.
Repugnant for all the wrong reasons, "Outlaw" is armed and ludicrous. The public is urged to approach it with caution or better yet avoid it entirely. The money you save may very well be your own.