Texas Rangers (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film had a chequered past, to say the least. Made in 1999, it languished undistributed for two years, then was finally released without fanfare in 2001. It received almost no promotion, was rolled out to a mere 400 screens, and was not professionally screened. Many of the major reviewers missed it because they were not properly notified about screening times.

It ended up a financial disaster. The studio spent about $40 million to make it, and it grossed less than a million. People stayed away in droves - in its second week, it grossed $95,316 on 404 screens. Do the math - that's less than $250 per screen per week. Assuming 21 shows per week, and eight bucks a ticket, the average audience size was 1 person, which might be some kind of record. Considering that critics didn't get in for free, that one person per show may have consisted of people who had to see it.

Nobody saw it. That was the good news.

The bad news was that the people who saw it hated it. The review summary at Rotten Tomatoes narrowly missed a perfect 0% - there was one "positive" review. Sorta. That guy said:

It won't win any prizes, but for fans of old-time Westerns, it may be a pleasant-enough diversion

Not exactly an anointment of screen genius, is it?



By the way, I pretty much agree with him. Was it really such a bad movie? No. If you were an intelligent 14 year old and saw this movie, neve having seen any of the classic westerns, you'd be very impressed. The cinematography is impressive in a 2.35 aspect ratio. The DP used some interesting angles and movement. The acting was OK, despite what you read. Even Van der Beek, who drew some critical fire, did fine in my opinion.

It's the old story of the re-formation of the Texas Rangers, filled with raw recruits, "mostly orphans", to bring the law back to Texas after the Civil War. If this movie had been made in 1939, it might be remembered as a classic. So why doesn't it hold up? A couple of reasons.

1. This kind of film is very corny and old-fashioned by today's standards. The presentation follows (intentionally, I believe) the old Western formula - from the soundtrack to the costumes to the dialogue.

2. Unless you are the mythical 14 year old I postulated earlier, there is simply nothing here that you haven't seen before.

This film also has some other weaknesses unrelated to its status as a 1939 movie made 60 years too late. The character development is minimal. Guys mutter laconically about their past, then start shooting. Too many shoot-outs, too little emotional truth. Women don't get anything to do at all except to act as props. We don't see a cathartic resolution for most of the characters.

It isn't Stagecoach or The Outlaw Josey Wales, but it is much better than American Outlaws, and nowhere near as bad as the critics said. It's sort of a two star movie. I think the IMDb has it about right at 5.4.   

Despite what I think, the facts are that it was a critical and financial disaster that was abandoned by its own studio. It isn't going to recoup its losses on home video, either. Blockbuster had it in the new releases this week - and I got the one and only copy - in the highest volume Blockbuster in the area.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen, 2.35

The guy who wrote the most informative, incisive, and interesting article was an amateur reviewer at amazon.com:

The movie was based on the book, "Taming the Nueces Strip" by George Durham as told to Clyde Wantland. George Durham was a real person whose exploits with McNelly's Rangers are well told. In "Texas Rangers." Durham is nothing more than a minor character, played by Ashton Kutcher, represented as the friend of the central character, Lincoln Rogers Dunnison (who was he?), played by James Van Der Beek. If the movie had followed the real historical events as they really happened, as told by Durham, it would have been a much better movie. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: less than a million domestic gross, despite a $38 million budget.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Not good, but watchable, in my opinion.

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