Monday, February 26, 2024

Mario Van Peebles’ Outlaw Posse

There is a relatively new trope in revisionist Westerns, in which a grizzled gunslinger blows into a town founded by freedmen that exudes contemporary values of tolerance and diversity. Of course, he comes to respect their ways, even though he must revert to his bad old habits to defend their dreams. You definitely find this template in the Django series, the Refuge graphic novel, and now again in this film. At least the hard-bitten “Chief” will do his best to keep his shootouts out-of-town in Mario Van Peebles’ Outlaw Posse, which opens in select theaters this Friday.

Shortly after the Civil War, Chief and Angel hijacked a shipment of gold intended to pay reparations to former slaves. They had the usual falling out, resulting in Angel losing both his share of the gold and one hand. Shrewdly, Chief stashed the loot on reservation land, where most white outlaws fear to tread. However, Angel remains determined to re-appropriate the gold and sever one of Chief’s mitts in retribution. For leverage, he abducts Malindy, the wife of Chief’s estranged son, Decker.

To save her, Decker must ingratiate himself into Chief’s gang, now consisting of the fatherly Carson, the young Southpaw (both of whom are white), the knife-wielding femme fatale Queeny, and the minstrel-performer, Spooky. Chief is due to reclaim the gold at the time he and the actual tribal chief agreed upon, but to get there, they must travel through the freedmen’s community led by his former riding mate, Horatio, who isn’t as dead as Chief had heard (that is a common phenomenon in
Outlaw Posse).

Weirdly, one of the most entertaining things about
Outlaw Posse is the wealth of colorful character actor cameos, like Neal McDonough and the truly great M. Emmet Walsh, who appear in the prologue (which could stand alone as separate short) and then only reappear briefly in a dream sequence. Regardless, they are both perfectly cast. There is also Edward James Olmos popping up as a general store proprietor and Joseph Culp (Corman’s Dr. Doom) as a crooked sheriff. Plus, Cedric the Entertainer plays it relatively straight as newly enlightened Horatio.

Outlaw Posse
does not appear to be linked to Van Peebles’ Posse from 1993, but he clearly remembered his way around horses and six-shooters. Frankly, there is no “posse” in Outlaw Posse, so the title seems deliberately misleading. Regardless, as Chief, he is definitely cool, in a steely, world weary kind of way. He can still carry a movie.

It is also a great deal of fun watching Amber Reign Smith vamp it up as Queeny. William Mapother is pretty darned nasty as Angel and John Carroll Lynch (Marge Gunderson’s husband in
Fargo) is appealingly wise and weathered playing Carson. However, the rest of the gang remain underdeveloped and Whoopi Goldberg is distractingly shticky in her brief appearances as the real-life Stagecoach Mary.

There is a reason why a lot of low budget westerns are getting released, even though the film criticism establishment considers them passĂ©. People still enjoy the genre’s old school conventions. Van Peebles dresses them up for modern ideological sensibilities, but he still executes them well, which is why
Outlaw Posse is still quite watchable. Recommended for fans of Van Peebles, the assembled character actors, and revisionist Westerns, Outlaw Posse opens this Friday (3/1) in theaters.