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Outlaw Trail: The Treasure of Butch Cassidy
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by David Cornelius

"Low budget, high entertainment matinee fun."
4 stars

It’s an iconic image of cinema history: Butch and Sundance, bursting from that Bolivian church, guns blazing, forever captured in sepia-toned freeze-frame. “Outlaw Trail: The Treasure of Butch Cassidy” toys with our fond memories of that scene, opening with its own take on that legendary moment. This time, the duo plan an escape out the back. But did they make it?

Roy Parker sure thinks they did. We flash forward to 1951 Utah, where teenage Roy (Ryan Kelley), great-nephew to LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, is convinced that his famous relative made it out alive, returned to the States, took an assumed name, and made up for a life of crime by living out his final years doing good deeds for all around him.

It’s not a popular view. Roy’s hometown seems content to use its most famous former citizen as an excuse for an annual old west festival, while the curator of the nearby museum (Bruce McGill) spins yarns reminding local boys that Cassidy was a ruthless outlaw.

Ah, but that curator turns out to be a rascally villain, in cahoots with two lowlife thieves (Brian Peck and Ron Melendez), all out to find Butch Cassidy’s stash of Bolivian gold. And suddenly we’re smack dab in the middle of a ripping boy’s adventure, with Roy and friends racing against the bad guys in a search to find that hidden treasure.

It all sounds like a low-rent Disney caper from days gone by, what with the bumbling crooks and the heroic teens. But director Ryan Little (“Saints and Soldiers”) and rookie writer David Pliler make so much of the action and the drama and the characters that the whole thing rises above its genre, capturing a grandness rarely found in movies of this scale. This is an oversized story with oversized moments, and what magical thrills the filmmakers find along the way.

In one scene, our young hero jumps onto a speeding train. In another, he engages in a back road car chase. An early scene features a breakneck horse race. There is humor, too: a potential escape down river is foiled when the plucky sidekick (Dan Byrd) forgets to grab the oars. And romance: Roy pines for the lovely Ellie (Arielle Kebbel), girlfriend to spoiled rich kid Martin (Brent Weber). And drama: Roy’s grandfather (James Gammon) surely knows of his brother’s ultimate fate, but is refusing to tell.

It’s all presented with a light touch, with Little obviously having a blast with the material. Working with a brilliant young cast (all four stars shine on their own and as a unit), Little’s deft pacing, balancing all the story elements with grace and skill, keeps us wowing to these characters’ adventures. Never mind the not-so-occasional dip into cliché - Little welcomes such familiar notions, going so far as to put McGill in a black hat. Here, Little celebrates the formula instead of letting the formula dictate the action. As a result, we’re given wide-eyed adventure that smiles with us.

The film also works wonders because underneath all the gee-whiz thrills of the adventure is a steady supply of heart. For all his train jumping and car chasing, Roy’s just a guy who wants to know the truth about his family, and Pliler’s screenplay (not to mention Kelley’s rich performance) makes this the focus of the piece, keeping character first. There’s a charming, folksy pleasantness to Roy’s derring-do, and it’s all because of his earnest nature.

(Pliler also proves to be a smash at crafting memorable dialogue. His characters speak with a rhythm that’s lovely on the ears, even when the lines are all about simplistic plot devices, while the movie is also peppered with a handful of big-laugh one-liners that add to the fun of it all.)

“Outlaw Trail” is undoubtedly old-fashioned, but that’s always in a good way. It’s a rollicking good time adventure that never shows its low budget roots. Little has given us a fast paced, highly intelligent, endlessly enjoyable matinee joyride, complete with retro feel.

Reprinted with kind permission from DVD Talk.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16804&reviewer=392
originally posted: 10/24/07 07:01:44
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USA
  16-Oct-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Oct-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Ryan Little

Written by
  David Pliler

Cast
  Ryan Kelley
  Arielle Kebbel
  Dan Byrd
  Brent Weber
  Bruce McGill
  James Gammon



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