Outlaw Posse Is Well-Intentioned Farce

Mario (left) and Mandela (right) Van Peebles in OUTLAW POSSE. Image: Quiver Distribution.

Countless filmmakers might dream of recreating the beauty and grandness of the old Hollywood westerns. Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to capture even a sliver of the magic of John Ford or Sergio Leone? Westerns, though, have fallen mostly out of favor with studios and audiences today. Underperformers in recent years like The Lone Ranger and The Magnificent Seven likely haven’t given the studio system the sense that audiences want big westerns on screen. I say this, ironically, just as the trailer for Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga came out only days ago, revealing his epic western swing. Maybe Kevin Costner can redeem the genre. It would take a lot, though, and Mario Van Peebles’ Outlaw Posse, despite its good intentions, doesn’t help.

A cowboy stands alone holding two guns and pointing them in opposite directions in Outlaw Posse.
Mario Van Peebles in OUTLAW POSSE. Image: Quiver Distribution.

Outlaw Posse stars Van Peebles (New Jack City) as “Chief,” an old outlaw, assembling, wait for it, a posse, to go search for lost confederate gold. Chief hopes to use his gold for reparations while skimming a little off the top for each member of the posse, but his old nemesis named Angel (Another Earth‘s William Mapother) is out for revenge, and to steal whatever riches Chief is after for himself. Along the way, Angel visits Chief’s son Decker (Mandela van Peebles—this is a family affair) and kidnaps his wife (musical artist Madison Calley), forcing Decker to spy on Chief’s posse and set them up for ambush when the time is right. 

Chief’s assembled gang, in addition to Decker, includes eclectic individuals. Southpaw (Jake Manley of TV’s The Order) is a quick-draw gunslinger who is, you guessed it, left-handed. Spooky (DC Young Fly, recently seen in Candy Cane Lane) is a Black minstrel show entertainer. Queeny (up and coming TV actress Amber Reign Smith) is an expert with knives and the younger sister of one of Chief’s old partners-in-crime. Lastly, Carson, an old white man (John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac), is, I guess, nice. 

The film is ostensibly about the posse on their journey into the mountains for gold, but along the way, they encounter all manner of obstacles and adventures. They find bigotry everywhere they go, and snuff it out where they can. They relay an old mantra: “When the laws are unjust, the just are outlaws.” Outlaw Posse thus plays out like a long odyssey through the west, with plenty of genre trademarks, evocative moments, and casting flexes like Whoopi Goldberg, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward James Olmos, and M. Emmet Walsh.

It’s a shame that it’s all so silly. Outlaw Posse feels bafflingly foolish and exceedingly strange on both a technical and narrative level. It is edited in such a way that even the slow scenes meant for dialogue or soaking in landscapes feel rushed and frantic. Its action scenes show ambition and vision but little sense of craft. It has some glaringly obvious and distracting ADR work. Furthermore, its narrative is so splintered that one wonders whether the film was even supposed to play out in the exact order of events that it did.  

A cowboy rides his horse through a town in Outlaw Posse
Melvin Van Peebles in OUTLAW POSSE. Image: Quiver Distribution.

It all comes together to make Outlaw Posse an ultimately farcical film that, bordering on entertaining, but never reaching any heights of note. It’s too dry to produce an unintentional comedy, and its earnestness makes laughing at the film feel nothing but mean-spirited. What Outlaw Posse does offer is a nice message and a well-intentioned approach to the genre. The posse makes it their mission to stomp bigotry wherever they go, and it is always a good bit of fun to watch racists and bigots get beat up, shot, and outsmarted.  

Van Peebles seems to have made Outlaw Posse with a lot of present-day context in mind. And what is the film’s tagline—“When the laws are unjust, the just are outlaws”—if not a rousing call to action? Outlaw Posse is also a family affair, with a father and son playing a father and son in the film, often ruminating on their characters’ frayed relationship. The film is dedicated to filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, Mario’s father and, as the film proclaims, the “OG Badasss!” It’s not a “so-bad-it’s-good” film so much as it is bad in an endearing way.

Outlaw Posse is a film you should be nice to. Because it is so earnest, because it has such good intentions, and because it was clearly made with love and enthusiasm. It’s a film you want to give the benefit of the doubt to, but it just offers so little in the way of actual entertainment. 

I just hope everyone had a good time making it.   

Written by Chris Duncan

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