The grindhouse-meets-Dukes of Hazzard vibe of the new action comedy The Baytown Outlaws is instantly recognizable, and fits as comfortably as a weathered boot. With that vibe come certain expectations. Three Alabama hit man/brothers will most certainly clean out a house of their targets with shockingly laid-back professionalism. The opening credits will undoubtedly be filled with pulpy comic-book panel still frames announcing the cast and proclaiming the film’s ironic pedigree, a design choice so commonplace as to actually have the opposite effect. There will be hot chicks, blood, dust and lots of twangy guitar rock.
The film, originally marketed as The Baytown Disco, centers on these hit man brothers, the oddly named Oodies, played by Clayne Crawford as leader Brick, Travis Fimmel as McQueen, and Daniel Cudmore as the mute but magnetic Lincoln. Celeste, played functionally by Eva Longoria, hires the Oodie brothers to rescue her godson Rob (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who’s been kidnapped by the boy’s godfather, a drug dealer named Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton).
Marquee draw Thornton was certainly born to play a Southern badass, but save for an early monologue comparing his criminal aspirations to the business model for Walmart, he doesn’t appear much. When he does, it’s merely to sputter about how them Duke boys—sorry, the Oodie brothers—have managed to yet again escape the increasingly crazier teams of bounty hunters he sets on their trail. (The film earns a few extra points for casting niche-geek stuntwoman Zoë Bell as the leader of a bevy of scantily clad hooker/assassins.)
The brothers have an easy camaraderie—that uniquely male type of affection that makes you believe they could beat the crap out of each other one minute and take a bullet for them the next, which in their line of work is a legitimate possibility. Their softer sides come out when dealing with Celeste’s son, Rob, who represents the sole original element of the story. (To say how would be a spoiler.)
So the performances are solid, but more often than not it feels like the characters are all acting, shooting and stabbing in a vacuum. Whether from low-budget design, or more likely the by-the-numbers effort of writer/director Barry Battles, the whole enterprise feels tinny and undercooked. Enjoyable enough, but wholly unremarkable. A film like this is supposed to reach through the screen and jolt your privates with a thousand volts. But The Baytown Outlaws keeps a respectful distance, and you’ll be lucky to leave the experience with a decent case of static cling.
Director: Barry Battles
Writer: Barry Battles, Griffin Hood
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Longoria, Clayne Crawford, Travis Fimmel, Daniel Cudmore, Andre Braugher, Paul Wesley, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2013