Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Outlaws and Angels: Putting the “Sad” in Saddles

If you are wearing chaps and spurs, you’re probably prepared for a tale of how the West was completely inappropriate. Leering George Tildon regularly enjoys pervy rub-downs from his fifteen-year-old daughter Florence, because that is the “frontier way.” Of course, he is also a preacher. Why pass up the opportunity for a cheap shot like that? Rather understandably, the Lolita-esque Florence’s loyalties will be divided when a gang of sweaty bank-robbers invade their home in JT Mollner’s Outlaws and Angels (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Henry the ringleader is one cool customer, but the gang’s latest bank job does not exactly go down with tick-tock precision. They make away with the cash, but they leave behind two dead gang-member on the trail. Having killed a lawman and a “popular” woman around town, they are guaranteed to have the posse out for their scalps, but nobody will be more dogged than bounty hunter Josiah. He travels so light, he doesn’t even carry a surname. Josiah is even hardnosed enough to follow them into a punishingly arid stretch of land only the antisocial Tildons would be masochistic enough to live on.

Poor Flo is creeped out by her father, relentlessly bullied by her grown sister Charlotte, and generally put-off by her mother’s hypocritical uber-piety. When Henry, the dumb one, and the psycho-sadistic one take her family hostage, it represents a significant improvement in her life, even though things immediately get rapey. O and A probably spends more time threatening sexual assault than any other film you will see this year. Fortunately, there is an immediate mutual attraction shared by Florence and Henry, whose word supersedes the rest of the gang.

Gosh, this is an unpleasant film. Frankly, it is hard to imagine what Mollner envisioned to be the fun parts. That is a shame, because the film wastes a sinisterly charismatic against-type performance from Chad Michael Murray as Henry. He is one bad cat, but the rest of the gang are paint-by-numbers stock characters. Owen Wilson also stretches his range a bit as the ethically elastic Josiah, with generally positive results. If Ben Browder is deliberately going with cringes as old man Tildon than he succeeds swimmingly. However, Francesca Eastwood (yes, those Eastwoods) always looks like she is trying to double Amanda Seyfried. Even though Mollner unsubtly stacks the deck against the Tildons, she never convincingly sells Florence’s betrayals.

Why on earth did Mollner make a western when he clearly hates the genre and everything it represents? Revisionist westerns are one thing, but O and A is absolutely self-loathing. By the way, if there is a connection to the Willie Nelson album of the same title, you apparently need to be a fan to catch it. Wildly problematic, Outlaws and Angels is not recommended when it opens this Friday (7/15) in New York, at the Cinema Village.